Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

BSFA members should be receiving the latest issue of Vector this week:

Torque Control — editorial
No Easy Choices: Some Thoughts of an Adult Reading Children’s and Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy by Andrew M. Butler
Writing a Ruritania in a Post-Colonialist World by Farah Mendlesohn
Taking Control of the World: Kristin Cashore interviewed by Nic Clarke
Nicholas Fisk: Ten Short Novels by Niall Harrison
First Impressions — book reviewed edited by Martin Lewis
Resonances 59 by Stephen Baxter
Foundation’s Favourites: Catseye by Andre Norton by Andy Sawyer
Progressive Scan: The Sarah Jane Adventures by Abigail Nussbaum

The smashing cover photo is by Tom Ryan. This is Martin’s first issue as Reviews Editor, and he’s instituted a few changes — not least of which is his opening column, which you can read here.

As ever, we welcome letters of comment, or feedback on the forum.

Also of note: you can listen to Jonathan McCalmont’s interview of Lauren Beukes (from last week’s BSFA meeting) on the BSFA website, here.

The Returners

The Returners coverThe Returners – Gemma Malley’s third young adult science fiction novel, and the first to stand alone — tells a tense, uneasy story. It may open with a too-familiar earnestness — “What is important,” Will Hodges insists, almost as soon as we meet him, “is that you never know. You never know when everything is going to change” (3) — and, indeed, it may be the case that, by the end of the novel, there has been a little more change for the better than can be entirely believed. But it would be a mistake to make up your mind about this story too quickly, I think; the revolution is at least more internal than external, and there are moments worth experiencing during which it does not seem like a foregone conclusion.

We are in the near future: to be precise, the main action of the novel takes place in suburban England between 4th May and 18th July, 2016. Malley’s extrapolation to this point is minimal. By far the most obvious shaping conceit of The Returners is that The Recession Never Ended, with the consequence that Britain is sliding ever faster down a right-wing nationalist slope. The “National Party” is gaining in power and influence, promising a government that will “work to make Britain great again”, instead of letting the country “get walked over by anyone and everyone” (26). A friend of Will’s father, a policeman-turned-politician called Patrick, takes them to rallies with queasily familiar chants: England for the English! British Jobs for British Workers! If Will’s mother was still alive, it is suggested, things may not have got this bad for this family. But she has been dead for some years, and in her absence neither Will, nor his father — a lawyer whose high-paying private-sector job was a casualty of the economic climate, and who now works for the Crown Prosecution Service – have been immune to the temptations of Patrick’s slogans. Simmering anger, rooted in fear and confusion, is a constant of their lives; and if their resentment is not exactly handled with the subtlety of, say, Ian R MacLeod’s The Summer Isles (2005), it is still grimly recognisable. Enter the plot: a Chinese youth called Yan, once Will’s friend, is arrested for stabbing a white pensioner, and Will’s father is assigned as prosecutor in what is, it becomes quite obvious, a frame job, designed to inflame racial tensions and build support for National Party policies.

While we’re worrying about all this foreground – and, to be honest, whether we can take an entire novel of a narrator as obnoxiously insecure as Will – Malley is establishing a quite peculiar background, one that makes The Returners even more claustrophobic. There’s something funny about Will’s memory. He remembers his mother, dead, “her long hair splayed out over the water like a painting” (5) – like a cliché – but not the circumstances surrounding that death. He remembers whole conversations word for word, and others not at all. He hates history lessons, not least because they give him migraines, and remind him of the terrible dreams – dreams of people suffering and dying – that he doesn’t understand. And then there are the freaks, the strangely familiar people who stare at him in the street: “haunted, sad-looking eyes boring into you, eyes that you recognise; that recognise you, except you don’t really recognise them because you don’t know them, you know you don’t – you’ve been through every person you’ve ever met in your life and they are none of them” (15).

How does all this start to come together? With the hollow-eyed freaks catching up with Will:

“Not reincarnation. Not like other people think of it,” she says. Her voice is soft but insistent. “We actually come back, Will. We’ve existed throughout time. We experience the worst that humankind is capable of; we absorb the pain, contain the horrors. We remember, Will. We are humanity’s conscience.” (134)

Will is, it seems, one of them, and in fact something unprecedented: a Returner who doesn’t remember. Hence the dreams, of Native American massacres, of slave ships, of concentration camps and of Rwanda. He was there, he is told, for all of it. He will be there for it, this time: a gathering of Returners means that suffering is on the way. Hence the visceral reaction against history; as he later puts it, “What’s the point of remembering if it just happens again and again?” (177)

So here, we think, is the twist. Now we will see Will learn about the other side of the coin. The sudden inversion of Will’s privilege seems a bit easy, perhaps, but it’s a worthy story, isn’t it? If there are no characters of colour actually on stage, as such (we have barely seen Yan, and the ethnicity of the Returners is carefully unspecified), Will’s attitudes are worth exploring, aren’t they? And if there’s something disquieting about the notion that humanity was somehow protected from the worst of the Holocaust (and the rest), well, perhaps that’s an unfortunate but unintended consequence.

We should give Malley more credit. The Returners, of course, have not told Will the whole truth, and when they do it becomes clear that we are meant to be asking all the questions listed above, and others. And if the novel’s final third is on one level a conventional broadside against the sort of lazy hands-off fatalism the Returners advocate – they insist that events are “All pre-determined, all set out like milestones on a journey we haven’t met yet” (176-7), and that “We cannot change them. Only humans can change themselves” (178) – it also becomes a rather more nuanced examination of inherited or inculcated responsibility, one that confronts the role of those who held the whip, rather than fetishises those who suffered under it. It remains a white story — a final, cathartic, plot-resolving confrontation aside — and, perhaps just as significantly, a masculine story. But it is also a story that refuses easy sympathy without refusing all sympathy, and one that presents a convincingly scary portrait of the ease with which prejudice can take root and grow, complete with two or three scenes whose intensity I suspect will stay with me for some time. The very end, as I already suggested, perhaps does take Will (and his world) too far for me: “Argue”, he tells the Returners. Argue with those “who think that foreigners are to blame for all our problems, or people who believed different things, or people who eat different food or watch different television programmes. Tell them they’re wrong. Make them see it. Force them to see it” (249). It sounds strange to hear the words in his mouth, after everything he has said and done by this point. But I wonder whether, for a few people, it might be what works.

Seven Bites of Tender Morsels

Tender Morsels coverOne. Tender Morsels is not a short story. This is stating the obvious, but it bears repeating for any reader of Margo Lanagan who, like me, has had their expectations of her fiction shaped by the work collected in White Time (2000), Black Juice (2004), and Red Spikes (2006). There is a temptation, after a particularly striking encounter with a writer working in one form, to be disappointed that their work in the other form does not have the same zing of newness: to feel that, say, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl “merely” explores in greater depth a future already presented in stories collected in Pump Six; or, in the other direction, that Ian McDonald’s Cyberabad Days “merely” adds a spectrum of perspectives to the world of River of Gods. I do not claim to be immune; I feel the lure of both those opinions, though I try to resist them. And in that sense, Tender Morsels is “merely” another fairytale retold with an emphasis on the grit and grim of the real. But, you know, longer.

Two. Re-reading “Snow White and Rose Red” once done with Tender Morsels, it is a real joy to discover how clever, and how sly, Lanagan’s revisioning is. The spine of the Grimm tale – two girls, living with their mother in a cottage in the forest, have encounters with a friendly bear and a wicked, treasure-hungry dwarf – is retained in Tender Morsels. But in Lanagan’s novel, the realm in which this takes place is a secondary world, a personal heaven to which the mother, Liga, escapes from a horrific childhood in a “real” world: this is both a necessary escape, and the sort of sanitisation of reality performed by the Brothers Grimm on the later editions of the tales they collected. The bear (multiple bears, actually, in the novel) and the dwarf are intrusions from the “real” world, and eventually harbingers of heaven’s end; and, most importantly, the novel shows us the story before and after the fairytale.

Three. Lanagan remains an extraordinary writer of action, of things happening. Her language itself can create unease; it is only very carefully euphonious, far more often tending to beauty of a guttural, earthy sort, particularly in dialogue or first-person narration, suited to action and discussion. (Less suited to description and reflection, which occasionally seemed to me a weakness.) But this is not to say she is explicit. Much attention has been lavished on the first few chapters, which cover Liga’s upbringing. She is repeatedly raped by her father (leading to several forced abortions, and eventually to Branza, the novel’s Snow White); after her father’s death, she is raped by a gang from a nearby village (leading to Urdda, Rose Red). Reading about this is even more harrowing than it may sound, in part because it does not seem to be leading anywhere (perhaps because a direction would mean a hope of escape), but primarily because Lanagan writes around the terrible events so effectively. Miscarriages endured by Liga are covered (“She tried to stop the baby, but it had been poised to rush out, and so it rushed out, with a quantity of wet noise”, 15), as is the aftermath of rape (how Liga “washed and washed her cringing parts”, how “to walk was to hurt”, 47); but the rapes themselves are not. That’s left to us to imagine.

Four. The novel seems to me to be built around a series of stark contrasts, set up early in the book. Most obviously, there is the contrast between Liga’s two worlds: that defined by her father – “he had run the world for her” (37) – and that defined by her own desire. The former is a place of relentless brutality, the latter somewhere Liga can be utterly trusting of everyone and everything around her. The tranquillity of this world is equally relentless in its way, and bold Urdda, in particular, grows to chafe against it, and eventually leaves. Men and women are divided by perspective: every scene told from a man’s point of view is first-person, while every scene told from a woman’s point of view is third-person. The logic behind this division never quite became clear to me; it could be an effective way of underlining the privilege accorded the male gaze in the novel’s “real” world, but the first-person perspectives persist even when the men are in Liga’s heaven; and a mild criticism of the novel might be that we are never given access to the perspectives of the men who actually commit the worst acts. But perhaps the argument should be that the perspectives we are given access to confirm that not all men are beasts, because man and animal are also contrasted, as young men taking part in a local ritual intended to “civilise” them find themselves transported to Liga’s heaven and transformed into bears. One such is noble, the other rather less so. And so on.

Five. The final section of Tender Morsels – when both daughters and Liga are back in the “real” world – is, I think, the best, but not without its perplexing moments. There are two points in the novel at which Lanagan seems to give her characters a freebie. The first is Liga’s salvation, when she is given the means to access her heaven by a force that is never explained; if the characters were religious, it would be an act of God. The second comes in the latter stages of the book, after Liga tells Urdda how her daughter was conceived. Urdda becomes (not surprisingly) incandescently angry; it is revealed that she has magical talent; in her sleep, unconsciously, she causes five voodoo dolls to go out into the village and gang rape each man involved in her mother’s ordeal; and in the morning she wakes, unknowing, and “fresh of it all”; “Yesterday”, she says, “I thought I would burn with that rage for the rest of my life. Today – well, I have no particular feelings about it at all” (407). She acknowledges that this is “not natural”; but it still feels far too consoling. Life does not provide vengeance so clean, or so easily.

Six. Urdda’s vengeance stands out all the more because most of the second half of Tender Morsels is devoted to questioning and — partially — deconstructing its earlier dichotomies. When the family are first reunited in the “real” world, there is a sense of right finality, as though the story is ending; yet at the same time you can feel, between your thumb and forefinger, the thickness of pages still to go. And so you conclude, because you are back in the world where Liga was so abused – because that horror, as Urdda puts it, is sitting “lumped in the past … impossible to ignore” (389) – that something bad is going to happen. It never does. But the expectation leads to some scenes of almost unbearable tension, often revolving around Branza. Unlike her sister, Branza never chafed against Liga’s heaven. She is desperately unworldly; in Gwyneth Jones’ resonant phrase, a true veteran of utopia, confused by the tragic distance between the world as it is and the world as it ought to be. So when she goes for a walk on her own – having been warned against such excursions by her sister – we fear for her. And, sure enough, she is menaced; yet she stands her ground, and bites one of the boys, and the rest are cowed. She walks home safely. Liga is delighted by the sight of her daughter’s accomplishment — “In some way, she had bested them; they were afraid of her, look!” (337) — but another character, standing at Liga’s shoulder, remarks that there’s nothing like being raised in heaven to give someone false confidence. The moment is punctured: we have to agree with that. And yet, Branza walks.

Seven. As Gary K Wolfe puts it in his review, the central theme of Tender Morsels is “the balance between the brutal abuse Liga herself has suffered and the overprotectiveness of the world she has made”. For Abigail Nussbaum, this leads to the novel’s major flaw: that it tells two stories, and that the morals of those stories clash:

Tender Morsels starts out as a story about a character who endures terrible injustices because she lives in a world arrayed against her, and who escapes into another world. It ends as a story about that character learning that life in the real world, though fraught with dangers, is worth more than life in a dream. The problem is that the lesson learned from the second kind of story–acceptance of the inevitability of heartbreak and pain–is precisely the lesson one shouldn’t learn from the first kind of story, which strives to elicit rage and indignation. It’s one thing to say ‘unhappiness and misfortune are the risks you take if you choose to live in the world,’ but it’s quite another thing to say ‘being made into a sex slave by your father and then gang-raped by men who think that having been impregnated by him makes you fair game is the risk you take if you choose to live in the world.’

I don’t entirely disagree with this, as the discussion above of Urdda’s vengeance – which I think can be read as existing to address the rage and indignation produced by Liga’s story, and sweep it under the carpet – may suggest. But it does strike me as risky to draw such direct morals from a novel which is, at base, about revising one of the most moralistic forms of literature there is, and which seems to me to so carefully manage the possible meanings of its events, inviting interrogation. Still, the novel has a happy ending, or something very close to it, despite the well-established darkness of the world — Wolfe writes of “a note of almost astonishing sweetness”, while Meg Rosoff describes a book that “celebrates human resilience” with “audacity and grace” — and a reader does have to be able to accept this as honest. For my part, the security the women achieve, while limited by the nature of the society in which they live, seems convenient but not tenuous. As the novel closes, Urdda is (thanks to the revelation of her magical talent) well on her way to being a powerful witch, Branza is marrying the story’s most noble man (who she met, as a bear, in Liga’s heaven), for love, and Liga is sharing a good house with another witch, who (thanks to the dwarf’s trips to Liga’s heaven) is independently wealthy. As to lessons, if we must have one I think I’m closer to David Hebblethwaite: neither Liga’s childhood nor her heaven makes a good guide to living in the world; neither should be trivialised, but they must not be the whole of the story. Or as Rosoff asks: is it possible to return to life from unspeakable trauma? Answering that question without seeming patronising is a tricky needle to thread, but I’d say Lanagan manages it much more than not; and that if you’re looking for a guide to living in the world, you could do worse than look at Tender Morsels.

Three Reviews

Graceling coverA first novel first, and one that by rights should be much more annoying than it actually is. Graceling is, after all, set in a generically medieval world with Seven Kingdoms, and never doubts that monarchy is just fine as long as there’s a Good Monarch on the throne; takes as its protagonist a very special young woman with a Grace — a magical talent of mysterious origin — that allows her to be the very best fighter in any of those kingdoms; and has its characters’ maturity levels thoroughly backwards, with a ten-year-old child who says things like, “Think … It wasn’t such a strange thing for him to do, knowing he might die in a fight” (280), and ostensibly worldly adults who need to ask, “Well, why does it pleasure him to hurt people? […] Everyone has some kind of power to hurt people. It doesn’t mean they do” (293). Moreover, it is distinguished by a procession of names that run from the uninspired — Wester for the Western Kingdom, Nander for the Northern one, Estill for the Eastern one, and so on — to the unbelievable — human characters called Tealiff, Raffin, Patch and, most painfully, Po. The whole book is like this, in a way that never really becomes unobtrusive: familiar, safely shaded within the lines of genre convention. And yet, somehow, it’s also zippy good fun, from first page to last.

My answer to this conundrum is to say that Cashore has a Grace of her own: a Grace for clarity. Graceling is distinguished by its crisp, direct language; by the orrery precision of Cashore’s plotting; by the careful but never ambiguous nuances of her characters’ emotional progressions; and by the firm yet unhectoring development of an argument about what it means to be a young woman — a woman with power — coming of age in a man’s world. The irritations noted above flow from the same well (Graces are never entirely without cost), as do some others: the Bad King Leck, for instance, who is simply and purely villainous not just because he has a Grace for telling lies about the world and making them stick — which would be enough — but because he tortures children and small animals.

On with the story. As the book begins, our Graceling, Katsa — yes, one letter away from being something you can order in Wagamama — is a thug for a Bad King, one who seized on her skill for violence as soon as it demonstrated itself, and moulded her into his strong arm. She has killed and tortured for him, often; but in secret rebellion, she has also set up a Council to carry out good deeds in an attempt to balance the scales. On one such Council mission, Katsa encounters another Graceling, a Prince from one of the other kingdoms — the aforementioned Po — who turns out to be on a mission of his own that intersects with hers. After some narrative throat-clearing, they join forces to solve the mystery of the kidnap of Po’s grandfather. It’s a well-paced adventure, with appropriately thrilling action, and satisfying revelations; but it is also, for a good long while, pretty much an excuse to have the two of them spend time together journeying across the Kingdoms, developing a relationship that is by turns affecting, nauseating, admirable and questionable: which is to say, believable.

In this Cashore is aided by her choice of Grace for Prince Po. Graces can be for almost anything you can imagine; physical skills such as swimming or climbing, say, or psychic talents such as precognition. Po’s Grace is of this latter type. He can sense the presence of other living beings, and when any of them think about him he picks it up like Noise. The downside is that, like other psychic Graces, such a talent attracts a certain degree of prejudice from the people of the Seven Kingdoms — or would, if they knew about it; Po takes care to keep the true nature of his Grace secret. On the upside, it’s a convenient way for Cashore to force characters to be direct with one another about their feelings, and provides many opportunities for knowing riffs on the development of relationships:

They had entire conversations in which they didn’t say a word. For Po could sense when Katsa desired to talk to him, and if there was a thing she wanted him to know, his Grace could capture that thing. It seemed a useful ability for them to practise. And Katsa found that the more comfortable she grew with opening her mind to him, the more practised she became with closing it as well. It was never entirely satisfying, closing her mind, because whenever she closed her feelings from him she must also close them from herself. But it was something. (177)

This is, though Katsa doesn’t use the word, what learning intimacy is like — a sense of the importance of human connection — and it’s a particular challenge for one as fiercely independent and physically-focused as she. (As she has to be, I might say; her Grace is an integral part of her, in that it’s shaped her personality, probably as significantly as anything in her lived experience.) There’s a lot of this sort of thing, and a lot of it goes straight to your heart. [Both Katsa and Po are extremely well-visualised characters, and their thoughts and reactions are complex and meaningful.] The problem, however, is an occasional sense that it’s too easy: that Po is too completely well-adjusted, too good to be true, too sympathetic, patient and generous at all times and to a fault. Po and Katsa’s relationship, for all its mutuality, is not one in which two people grow together, it’s one in which Po waits for Katsa’s emotional growth to catch up to his. The major emotional challenge faced by Po doesn’t come until late in the novel, and it’s the challenge of one who is knocked down and has to get up again, not — as Katsa’s challenge is — one of reaching beyond yourself. Some coincidences of content — an experienced survivor mentoring a younger girl; a long, frozen trek to get someone to safety — had me wondering whether Cashore was referencing The Adventures of Alyx; and thinking that, I can’t help wondering what Russ would make of Cashore’s certainty in the potential for and of open-hearted romantic relationships.

But the clear argument running through Graceling is that it is possible to see clearly in matters of the human heart, and always better to do so. As illustration, consider the portrayal of anger, or more accurately the portrayal of the limits of anger. Katsa is often angry, and her anger is always justified; her world is filled with injustices, and not just ones that afflict her personally. But her anger is also often problematic — “She must guard against using her Grace in anger”, she realises. “This was where her nature’s struggle lay” (94) — usually for the specific reason that it clouds sight, and leads to rash action. We are never allowed to doubt that impulsiveness, action by instinct, is a vital part of Katsa — again, probably innate, thanks to her Grace, as much as learned — but though it solves problems, such solutions are never fully satisfactory. (And towards the end of the book, one of the signs that a particular King is Good is his insistence that Katsa goes slow, thinks first, doesn’t rush in.) It is a somewhat refreshing approach, and one of the relatively few aspects of the book where Cashore does more than simply colour within the lines.

Many Graces, of course, turn out to be more subtle in their action than they first appear, and subject to change over time, with implications for both Katsa and Po’s sense of identity. But the true nature of Po’s Grace, when it is explicated, late in the book, is not a surprise. He begins to sense the physical world, as well as living creatures:

“And then, in the cave, with the soldiers shouting outside and my body so cold I thought I would bite off my own tongue with my chattering teeth — I found it, Katsa.”

He stopped talking, and he was quiet for so long that she wondered if he’d forgotten what he’d been saying.

“What did you find?”

He turned his head to her, surprised. “Clarity”, he said. (323)

In its best, purest moments, Graceling is like this: a revelation that lights the darkness.


Gullstruck Island coverIf Kristin Cashore’s Grace is for clarity, Frances Hardinge’s is for play. The opening paragraph of her third novel snares you not just because it’s so confidently done —

It was a burnished, cloudless day with a tug-of-war wind, a fine day for flying. And so Raglan Skein left his body neatly laid out on his bed, its breath as slow as sea swell, and took to the sky. (1)

— but because what it’s describing is a pure kind of freedom, and sounds like fun. And Hardinge doesn’t let it rest there. Skein is a Lost, which means that he’s capable of sending all his senses off independently: “a gifted Lost might be feeling the grass under their knees, tasting the peach in your hand, overhearing a conversation in the next village and smelling cooking in the next town, all while watching barracudas dapple and brisk around a shipwreck ten miles out to see” (1). Just imagine the possibilities. Hardinge does, both for humans and for other animals. Also found on Gullstruck is a species called the farsight fish, which possesses Lost-like abilities and is thus “notoriously difficult to catch because it was almost impossible to take by surprise” (37); though if you do catch it you can borrow its ability for a short period, leading to a rather Douglas Adams-ish observation about the problem of gulls who have feasted on farsight flesh getting confused, thinking they can still see around mist when they can’t, and flying into a cliff.

Hardinge is playing with us in another way here, though, because Raglan Skein isn’t the protagonist of Gullstruck Island. Who is? It might be the girl on whom Skein spies: Arilou, “the most important person” in her village, and “arguably the only excuse for its existence” (4). Arilou is a Lost too, the first born to the Lace — a coastal-dwelling tribe — in over fifty years, and approaching the age where her abilities are due to be formally tested. There is always the danger, with an untrained Lost child, that their senses will wander off, never to be fully reunited. But when they are trained, the Lost are vital, forming a sort of living communication network for Gullstruck, and (in the form of the Lost Council) mediating between the various peoples living on the island. Gullstruck is a messy place; the diverse cultures of the island’s native tribes have, for generations now, been subordinate to the impositions of Cavalcaste settlers — despite the settlers’ stubborn lack of adaptation to the requirements of their new home, in their stubborn retention of inappropriate clothing, in their too-tall buildings, and their outdated laws. (There are no exact historical parallels, but the Gullstruck natives are something like South Pacific islanders, and the Cavalcaste are something like Northern Europeans.) Given the relative lack of space, at this point almost everybody on the island is mixed-race — Hardinge’s word is mestizo — but it’s the Cavalcaste traditions that dominate, particularly their ancestor-worship. So having a Lost in the village is, indeed, a good thing; it brings respect, influence, possibly wealth, all things the Lace have lost. Unfortunately, the secret the village keeps from the outside world is that Arilou may be a lost Lost, her senses hopelessly scattered; or she may be a Lost and mentally damaged in some way; or she may not be a Lost at all.

So Arilou isn’t the protagonist either. Maybe it’s the girl we meet at the start of the first chapter proper —

On the beach, a gull-storm erupted as rocks came bouncing down from the clifftop. Half a step behind the rocks scrambled Eiven, her face flushed from running. (5)

Eiven looks like good protagonist material. She is bold, agile, and confident; she brings news of the arrival of the Lost Inspector, and sets off the preparations for his visit.

And then she pretty much disappears from the narrative. We are being played with, again. There is, admittedly, a clue; the narrative spots a girl who escapes Skein’s notice, “anonymous as dust”, and boldly informs us that “you have already met her, or somebody very like her, and you cannot remember her at all” (4). But it’s another fifteen pages or so before we actually get to meet Hathin, who turns out to stay at the centre of the narrative for most of the rest of the novel’s thirty-nine chapters. First we meet Minchard Prox, assistant to the Lost Inspector, and it’s through his eyes that we learn Hathin is Arilou’s sister, minder and translator. The Lace cover story is that Arilou’s slurred speech is the result of incomplete control of her body (not an uncommon problem for untrained Lost), and only Hathin can understand her. The reality is that Hathin is making it up as she goes, and she’s going to need all her wits to trick the Lost Inspector into thinking Arilou can pass the tests he’s going to set.

Oops. Played again. That is what happens next; but it’s also a distraction, marking time until the real plot snaps into action. Skein dies mid-way through the tests. Soon enough it becomes clear that every other Lost on the island has also died — except Arilou. At first it seems that this will be a benefit to the Lace, a chance to regain some respect and importance. Of course, all too quickly, suspicions are turned against the Lace: did they kill the Lost? They stood to gain. The village is destroyed, and Hathin flees with Arilou across the inland volcanoes. A quest is born: to escape, to clear the name of the Lace, and to bring the true culprits to justice. Hence, presumably, the rather naff title of the US edition: The Lost Conspiracy.

At that point things get a bit more predictable (making it a sort of inversion of Hardinge’s first novel, Fly by Night); but in the end you don’t read Gullstruck Island for the plot. You don’t even read it for the characters who, though appealing, and inter-related in complex and satisfying ways (Hathin and Arilou’s relationship is beautifully developed), are not that deeply rendered. You read it to be enchanted by Hardinge’s voice, whether whimsical or deadly serious, or both at once:

Despite her high status, Milady Page usually spoke Nundestruth. It was nobody’s language, everybody’s language, a stew of words taken from the tribes and the Cavalcaste alike. By the time the first settlers’ grandchildren were full-grown, they found that however carefully they taught their own children their ancestral tongue, the children caught the hybrid chatter in the streets and brought it home like mud on their boots. “That gibberish may be good for the fields and the beach but Not Under This Roof!” the parents cried, only succeeding in giving the new language its name. Proper-speak, the old colonial language, earned the nickname “Doorsy”, indoors-speak. (28)

Most of the time, Hardinge writes in a kind of Nundestruth; resolutely playful in her descriptions, fearlessly indulging in rhyme (“Like many Gullstruck officials he was both well-heeled and bell-heeled”, 9), or cranky repetition (Port Suddenwind, the largest Cavalcaste town, is a “creaking clockwork of laws, laws, laws”, 26), or alliterative chapter titles (“Twisted Tongues”, “Farsight Flesh”, “Trial and Trickery”, “Heat Haze”). But she’s equally competent in Doorsy, when the situation calls for it: “And so ended the conference of the invisible, in the cavern of blood and secrets, on the night of the mist” (43). It is in no way as neat a novel as Graceling (a quite Doorsy book), but it makes of its freedom a strength: it finds joy and pride in its messiness, in the messiness of the things it describes.

Everything is alive, in Gullstruck Island. “Thunder rolled unseen cannonballs across the sky” (69); “the little clock gnawed away the hours” (111); “flames flung loving, golden arms around the summer-roasted palm thatch” (123). And there are the volcanoes that define Gullstruck’s geography and are, to the tribes such as the Lace, the true powers on the island. These are wonderfully handled: clearly, meticulously researched, but gifted with their own personalities that aid and abet Hathin and Arilou on their journey, from cranky Mother Tooth to mad Lord Crackgem, and the jealous love triangle that is Sorrow and her two suitors, Lord Spearhead and the King of Fans. So much in Gullstruck Island rests on who and what you see as living and worthy of respect, as distinct and individual. For the Lace, the answer is just about everyone and everything; the Cavalcaste are distorted by their fixation on the dead. And in the novel’s darkest moments, the islanders cease being individuals altogether, and become something else: “Mob wasn’t people. It took people and folded their faces like paper” (278).

This is, ultimately, the only real source of disappointment in the book. Gullstruck Island is a light address to serious topics — the hatred stirred up against the Lace in the wake of the Lost deaths is not new, it is an awakening of an old, ingrained prejudice, exploited by the story’s villains. (Who, if doubt remained, are Bad News either because they actively dislike the mess of diversity that characterises Gullstruck, or because their preference for order, their aversion to play, enables them to be twisted into malicious tools.) Hathin’s campaign to right the scales leads her down a dark path, swearing a vengeance that it is very clear could break her, that does in some ways immediately break her. All of this is good: that you don’t put a bunch of volcanoes on the mantel in Act I if you’re not going to do something with them in Act III does not make the ending too neat. What does, unfortunately, is the reduction of people to Mob, because it allows problems to be solved too easily. It’s too great a contrast with Hathin’s spirited individualism (no romance here); it’s not just that it allows there to be a spider at the centre of the web, but that it allows removal of the spider to leave the world a better place. This is, of course, marvellously freeing; the end of the novel is full of messy freedoms — “true joy, like true pain, does not care how it looks or sounds” (487) — and puts Hathin in a position to be whatever she wants to be. But freedom from the ancestor-worship of the Cavalcaste even becomes, it seems, freedom from history: and that’s a freedom too far for me.


The Ask and The Answer coverThere is some discussion of the ease with which groups of people can be manipulated in The Ask & The Answer, too. “A man is capable of thought”, one character notes. “A crowd is not” (120). It’s a sentiment that acquires new force in the context of Chaos Walking, for a couple of reasons. One is that the series is set on New World, a planet on which all men, and all active fauna, constantly broadcast their thoughts as Noise. (This includes the sentient Spackle, for whom it is the only method of communication, but not women, who remain exempt — at least for this, the middle book of the trilogy. Since it is pointedly noted, without explanation, that this fact sets humans apart from every other species on the planet — female animals have Noise — presumably further developments will be forthcoming in volume three.) The second reason is that if Patrick Ness has a Grace, it is for manipulation; like The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask & The Answer is staggeringly effective at guiding the responses of its readers, at controlling the flow of information and shaping raw events into irresistable story.

We start out with protagonists Todd and Viola in the power of the series villain, Mayor Prentiss, who has brought the largest town on New World under his sway, and is keen to use the excuse of Noise to institute full-scale segregation of men and women. As he puts it, so carefully and reluctantly: “The borders between men and women had become blurred, and the reintroduction of those borders is a slow and painful process […] but the important thing to remember is, as I’ve said, the war is over” (130). You might be forgiven for thinking, just briefly, that he’s right. The council of what was once Haven, and is now New Prentisstown, did after all vote to submit to the Mayor’s authority because they didn’t want more war, because they decided that capitulation was the best way to save lives. The deposed chair defends the decision: “Not everything is black and white, Todd. In fact, almost nothing is” (36).

Yet what happens in The Ask & The Answer seems black enough. Crudely put, it is the first steps towards building Gilead. Todd and Viola are split up, and the narrative splits with them. Todd is kept alive for the potential the Mayor sees in him, and assigned to oversee the management of a contingent of Spackle prisoners — previously used as servants by the inhabitants of Haven, they are now locked up together, and kept docile through the application of a “cure” for Noise. Viola, meanwhile, is kept alive for the information the Mayor thinks he can get out of her, about the incoming second wave of colonists, and locked up in one of the town’s Houses of Healing with the other women.

The bond between Todd and Viola is — of course — unbreakable, but both are, to an extent, seduced by the crowds they find themselves associating with. Viola becomes part of The Answer, originally set up as an all-female — and thus silent — combat unit in the Spackle war, now reformed as a a Carhullan Army waging a bombing campaign on New Prentisstown. (It’s interesting to note how completely normal it is, both for the novel and for its characters, that the women fight and can fight; there is no amazement on anyone’s part, not even any pointed remarks. The Mayor’s misogyny is not grounded in thinking women weak, in other words; nor does it seem to be grounded in wanting to control their bodies. It seems, instead, to be grounded in the fact that, without Noise, he cannot control them.) Todd, on the other hand, finds himself trying to rationalise the actions his new position forces him into — better he’s the one to implement the latest restriction on Spackle freedom, because at least he cares a little — all the while being shaped by the Mayor’s insistent thoughts, which, he tells us, “hatched right in the middle of my brain, like a worm in an apple” (207). Todd’s sense of self — always fragile, in Noise — starts to deteriorate, and worse, to be consciously repressed.

Even leaving aside the narrative split, The Ask & The Answer is thus a very different book from its predecessor. It’s still told in forthright Nundestruth (Viola’s voice is a bit more Doorsy than Todd’s, but not dramatically so), but a headlong chase is replaced with a slow accumulation of intensity; a tour of New World is replaced with a close focus on New Prentisstown; and an unpeeling of the truth of the world is replaced — other than in a couple of broad hints such as the one noted above — by a concern with the manipulation of truth, how lies become truth in the first place. (The Mayor’s ability to manipulate Noise is, it is clear, an ability to manipulate truth, an ability to make lies true not a million miles from that possessed by Bad King Leck.) It is still, fear not, a quite extraordinarily absorbing story, one of those books you inhale more than read; and though it is (inevitably) a less tidy book than The Knife of Never Letting Go, I think it perhaps more penetrating.

We are the choices we make: nothing more, nothing less. That’s what the Mayor tells Todd in the book’s opening scene, and what Mistress Coyle, head of the Answer, tells Viola somewhat later. Even choices we think we have to make are choices, this book says: rationalizations are just that. And individuals are, in fact, as vulnerable as crowds, if not more so. But this is not to say — despite the insistences of several characters — that there are no right and wrong moves, no black and white to be found in this novel. Todd and Viola’s complicity in the actions of the Mayor and of The Answer is pushed just about as far as it can go; to follow their progress through this book is to watch them make choices, to understand why they make those choices, and yet to know that the choices they make are wrong. The novel insists that what matters is not how you fall down, but how you pick yourself up again; but Viola and to an even greater extent Todd, fall a long way in this book.

The Mayor’s actions are unambiguously black from the get-go, and it becomes increasingly obvious as the novel wears on that Mistress Coyle’s tactics are just as unforgivable. The thing is that they are, both of them, plausible kinds of wrongness, ones that exist, with all their seductive and coercive potency, in our world as much as in that of Chaos Walking. What is hard is not identifying them as wrong, but finding and acting on the right and the good in the face of their existence, and their tendency to grapple each other in violent, escalating feedback loops. This is something Ness gets right that I think the other two books discussed above don’t quite manage. The Mayor is ultimately as cartoonish as Leck, and he’s on screen for a whole lot longer. This seems like a weakness. But in fact his one-dimenstionality matters less, because it’s so clear that he’s merely the visible tip of an iceberg. Leck’s ideas may be insidious, but they’ve got nothing on the prejudices into which the Mayor taps and to which he gives form. By the end of The Ask & The Answer, Todd and Viola have demonstrated that the Mayor can be defeated, but they’re left to face the world the Mayor has wrought: left to face, in other words, the Mayor’s ideology. There’s more than one war that needs to be won in Monsters of Men.

Forests of Hands and Teeth and Bones

The Forest of Hands and Teeth coverThe Forest of Hands and Teeth opens with an arresting image: the narrator, Mary, recalls a long-lost photograph of a relative standing in the ocean, and notes that what really endures is not the detail, but the impression of “a little girl surrounded by nothingness”. The relevance of this image quickly becomes clear. Mary’s village lives under siege, surrounded by a forest filled with monsters, protected by fences, guards and patrols. The monsters in question are ex-humans, creatures of “tattered clothes, sagging skin […] horrible pleading moan[s], and […] fingers scraped raw from pulling at the metal fences” (2). They get that way as a result of being bitten by one of the infected. To call them zombies, as they never are within the pages of the book, is accurate but loses a nuance of tone: the other void that surrounds Mary is an absence of knowledge, so (among other things) she is never given the chance to know the word “zombie”, or to use it. To her, the monsters are the Unconsecrated. And they are seen, not as mindless, but rather as singled-minded: their unlife is unendingly, unrelentingly, “only about one need, one desire” (184).

The order of Sisters that controls Mary’s village, much like some religious institutions today, isn’t so very keen on uncontrolled desire. Oh, they speak of freedom: “There is always a choice,” they proclaim. “It is what makes us human, what separates us from them” (34). And it is in putative service to this maxim that infected individuals are not summarily executed, but are allowed to decide whether they want to be killed, or released into the forest to join their new brethren. But other kinds of choice are in short supply. An unmarried woman has precisely three options: live with her family; marry into another family; or join the Sisterhood. Of necessity, Mary ends up plumping for door number three, which in turn leads her to new knowledge about the world in which she lives: right up to the point at which her village is overrun by the Unconsecrated, and she is forced to flee into the forest, making use of a forbidden network of fenced pathways, of uncertain origin and unknown destination.

This second half of The Forest of Hands and Teeth is to my mind rather better than the first, because Carrie Ryan has constructed an affectless, somewhat numbed voice for Mary, and I think it handles action rather better than reflection. Here, for example, Mary grieves for her mother, infected in the novel’s first chapter and released into the Forest shortly thereafter:

I lie on the floor with my eyes closed and body limp, trying to feel my mother’s hands in my hair as I repeat the stories she used to tell me over and over again in my mind. I refuse to forget any details and I am terrified that I already have. I go over each story again — seemingly impossible stories about oceans and buildings that soared into the heavens and men who touched the moon. I want them to be ingrained in my head, to become a part of me that I cannot lose as I have lost my parents. (20-1)

It’s telling, I think, that Mary refers to the detail of the stories she’s recalling but that Ryan — writing in first-person present, note — refuses to give us those details. We are kept on the surface, away from the core of Mary, away from the depths of her feelings. As a result, those feelings are never evoked with as much intensity as the situation seems to deserve; the horrific claustrophobia of the village, for example, is never as overwhelming as I would have liked. Indeed the village itself is never described in any but the most generic terms. The Cathedral from which the Sisterhood rules is simply “an old stone building built well before the Return” (7). Abstracting a tone from a cluster of real-world references is one thing, but an excess of Significant Capitalization does not an Atmosphere make.

But the style works rather better when the Unconsecrated are on the rampage. Then, the immediacy, the focus on surfaces and the progression from one action to the next makes much more sense. More than once, Ryan is able to establish and maintain a sense of urgency that is sustained precisely by the lack of meaningful introspection; no thought, only action, detailed in something akin to slow motion: “Beside him on the platform men pull at bows, letting loose arrows towards targets somewhere behind me. I can feel the compression of an arrow splitting the air as it cuts next to my head. I don’t know if the arrow was meant for me or for something behind me and I refuse to look over my shoulder to find out. Reality is too much to bear at this moment and so I shove it aside” (128). The problem with this, of course, is that as well done as it is, it’s one of the only real virtues of the novel, and it’s something that films, television and computer games — visual media — will always do rather better than prose fiction. And there is a sense that The Forest of Hands and Teeth is waiting to be made into a film. The action sequences are Hollywood-polished — and, indeed, when Mary suddenly demonstrates heretofore unhinted at l33t zombie beheading skillz, Hollywood-improbable.

Equally, the relationships are Hollywood-superficial. At the heart of the book’s keystone romance, between Mary and one of the village men, Travis, is something ambitious and challenging, I think. Mary’s love for Travis is never justified or elaborated; it is simply a given. Equally, Travis’s love for Mary goes unexamined until quite late in the book with, in the meantime, paroxysms of adoration — “‘Oh Mary,’ he says, thrusting his hand into my hair and cupping my head […] ‘Mary,’ he whispers. I can feel the movement of his lips” (89) — substituting for anything resembling conversation, or any sense of a meaningful connection between two individuals. Their desire, in other words, is the same selfish, short-sighted, and ultimately unsatisfying kind of desire as that which drives the Unconsecrated. Whether or not it is even a choice, in the meaningful, human sense identified earlier is in doubt. The trouble is that the novel never quite commits to saying this out loud, as it were; for all the casual gruesomeness and violence that comes with the Unconsecrated, this sort of unconsecrated desire is apparently beyond the pale, or the page: the passion that might make Mary and Travis’ mutual obsession convincing is missing, replaced with coy allusions to waking up in each others’ arms.

Too, there seems to me to be something not quite successful about Ryan’s refiguring of zombies. When Danny Boyle and Alex Garland used them to express mindless rage in 28 Days Later (2002), they famously embodied this change as intensity, as speed. Ryan’s Unconsecrated, in contrast, are not particularly differentiated to achieve her metaphoric purpose; instead she borrows familiar traits. (There is even a fast zombie, confirmation if any were needed that the Boyle/Garland variant has become a trope in its own right.) And so they continue to also stand for death, for “the fear of death always tugging at you. Always needing you, begging you” (214). The problem with this layering is twofold, I think. First, it doesn’t just say that single-minded desire will destroy you; it suggests that something like the Sisterhood is needed to keep it at bay. Second, death really is a slow, shambling inevitability; and so an ending that offers an escape to what appears to be a genuinely safe haven, even if that escape comes at a cost, even if it affirms the fundamental selfishness of your protagonist, cannot help but fail, on some level, to satisfy.

Bones of Faerie coverImmediately after reading The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I happened to pick up Janni Lee Simner’s Bones of Faerie. On the face of it, the two books are not dissimilar, but the comparison is not kind to Ryan’s novel. Like The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Bones of Faerie is a post-apocalyptic narrative, told in the first person by a young woman who, when we meet her, is living in a village that has regressed to pre-industrial technology and social structures, from which she journeys out into the world beyond. Both protagonists struggle with the absence of their mother. Both books are stylistically straightforward. (Both, at least in the editions I own, happen to have striking Stephenie Meyer-esque iconic-image-on-black-background covers. And both, as if you couldn’t guess by this point and if you care, were written as Young Adult fiction, and are their authors’ first books for the YA audience.) And, like Ryan’s novel, Bones of Faerie opens with an arresting image, this time of the narrator’s baby sister abandoned by their father, for bearing the “hair clear as glass from Before”, that signals the touch of faerie. “We knew the rules,” Liza says.

Don’t touch any stone that glows with faerie light, or that light will burn you fiercer than any fire. Don’t venture out alone into the dark, or the darkness will swallow you whole. And cast out the magic born among you, before it can turn on its parents.

Towns had died for not understanding that much. My father was a sensible man.

But the memory of my sister’s bones, cracked and bloody in the moonlight, haunts me still. (2)

There is, no doubt, an essay I need to write at some point exploring the kinds of combinations of fantasy and science fiction elements that work for me and the kinds that do not: for now, suffice to say that a story set in a world devastated by war between humanity and Faerie hits the sweet spot, and hits it good. It helps that Simner is constantly inventive and effective in her portrayal of this altered world; small stuff, mostly, such as the magically evergreen trees (“Mom said before the War, leaves had changed color in autumn […] it would take a fire now to make any tree release its grip that easily”, 8), or crops that resist being harvested (“In the distance, corn ears moaned as townsfolk pulled them free”, 9); and every so often, another arresting image:

A moth flew toward the fire and through the flames. It flew out again with the veins in its gray wings glowing orange. Moths were drawn to light and always took some away with them when they found it. (29)

I find that an extraordinarily concise, delicate and effective evocation of strangeness; and Simner sprinkles the pages of her characters’ quest with this sort of thing, bringing the landscape of her novel alive in a way that I never felt with The Forest of Hands and Teeth. On the other hand, compared to Ryan’s set-pieces, Simner’s attempts at action are much less tense and visceral — though this is not to say that Bones of Faerie is without drive. For a portal-quest fantasy (which it undeniably is), the story is pleasingly brisk. Driven by the suspicion that she has been touched by magic, and fearful of what her already authoritarian father, in particular, would do to her if he found out, in short order Liza flees into the woods around her village, is rescued by the inhabitants of another village (who turn out to have embraced magic, rather than shunned it), learns more about the world, and sets out on a quest to rescue her mother, who she believes is trapped in Faerie. The instant acceptance — or indulgence — of Liza’s choice is only one of the ways in which Simner’s hews closely to the cliches of portal-quest stories: for Liza does turn out to be a child of special potential, born to important parents, and responsible for Healing the Land.

It’s how well Simner works within this framework, and how she finesses it, that makes Bones of Faerie. There is, for example, a charming moment when Liza overhears some other characters, and the reader realizes they are engaged upon their own story, which for them is just as important as the one we’re reading. Simner’s faeries, also, are pretty much just humans with magic, not given to tricks or spite any more or less than the regular kind. It’s a pleasingly fresh approach that allows Simner to comment gently on prejudicial assumptions. And perhaps most importantly, while magic has undeniably reshaped the land, it cannot be done away with. “Magic destroyed the world,” Liza tells one of her rescuers. “Indeed,” he replies. “And now it’s the only tool we have to mend it” (80). It’s a pragmatic approach, one that feels true to the way the world really evolves; and it means that to heal the land is not to restore it to some ideal state, but to accept and accomodate its evolution. The image Simner uses to communicate this accommodation, when it comes, is both delightful in itself, and delightfully well-chosen in the context of the rest of the novel.

The counterpoint to all this delicacy comes in visions that afflict Liza, increasingly as the book wears on: stark flashes of places she has not been and events she could not have seen. Many are of the war: “Dirt churning like flour in a sieve, and the people slipping from view one by one, their hands grasping air to the last, leaving behind only dirt and roots and jagged bone” (161). Most brutal of all is the uncovering of what humanity is capable of in response. It is a darkness that shades but never distorts the book: again there is the sense of a framework being carefully used, of everything in its proper place and most effective proportion. A less charitable way of saying this is to suggest that in both subject matter and emotional focus, Simner’s book is arguably less adventurous than Ryan’s; Bones of Faerie is straightforwardly a book about loss and renewal. So Liza, of course, is possessed of generic amounts of practicality and pluck, and learns to control the magic lurks within her, and there is an undeniable inevitability to the way in which she confronts her father at the novel’s climax. But the confrontation is more plausibly choreographed than, for example, any of Mary’s heroics in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, with the result that Liza’s catharsis is no less freeing for being expected, while Mary’s release feels like a betrayal. That difference between the two books, in the end, outweighs any number of similarities.

Sparkle Motion

When I mentioned I was planning to read Stephenie Meyer’s young adult vampire blockbuster Twilight, many people reacted with puzzlement. Why was a reading a book with so many negative reviews, so many articles about the disturbing gender roles and creepy romance? Partly it was curiosity, to see if there’s anything to explain why these books hit such a chord with female readers, much like I read (and enjoyed) Harry Potter to see what all the fuss was about, but mostly it was because I don’t like writing off books without actually reading them just because everyone else says they are rubbish.

Twilight is the story of Bella Swan, who selflessly moves from California to live with her dad, the sheriff of the small, exceptionally damp town of Forks, Washington. There she meets the mysterious and pale Edward Cullen, falls in love, meets his family of equally pale and attractive vampires, and has a run-in with a nasty vampire before the Cullen family rescue her and Edward takes her to the prom. While I was prepared for how much of the book is devoted to the love story, I didn’t realise how lacking in plot it actually is. For 300 pages we follow Bella around as she goes to school, is terrible at gym, makes dinner and does the laundry, and has lots of teenage angst, before she and Edward actually go skipping through the meadows and meet the proper villain. Surely there are better ways of portraying the mundanity of Bella’s life pre-Edward than to tell me every detail.

Bella is clearly an attempt at a character the female readers with empathise with – she worries about fitting in at her new school, she’s bad at gym and worries about her clumsiness. Other than that, her personality is a blank slate, which is why it’s so unbelievable that all the boys she meets are attracted to her, and the clumsiness is so exaggerated that she can barely walk a mile without falling over. It becomes an even bigger problem since the whole plot hinges on Bella being Edward’s one true love, and the only evidence we have for that is Edward’s continual declarations that she smells nice and how intriguing she is, mostly because she’s the one woman whose mind he can’t read.

When James the bad vampire turns up, things get more interesting and more disturbing, at least from a gender angle. The vampires are playing baseball, in an unintentionally hilarious scene as they reveal that they can only play baseball during thunderstorms as they hit the ball so hard it sounds like thunder. (And yet the bats and balls can stand up to this treatment.) The vampires in Meyer’s world draw lightly on traditional vampire mythology, as they do drink blood, and get “turned” by another vampire, but other than that they have superpowers – immortal, exceptionally fast and strong, and a variety of powers which allow them to foresee the future, read minds, control emotions, track humans, and also compose heart-rending piano pieces. In a fight between two groups of superpowered individuals, Bella gets literally picked up and carried about, ordered around, and when she decides to confront the villain herself, it all goes wrong and she has to be rescued, and being a first-person narrative we don’t even get to see the fight as Bella is out cold.

While the relationship between Bella and Edward is undoubtedly creepy and disturbing, with Bella lacking in agency and awareness about how weird it is, I was never sure quite how much was deliberate and how much is Meyer unintentionally robbing Bella of her agency because that’s the only way she can think of to make the plot work. There are occasional nods to Bella having thoughts of her own, as she comes up with a plan, or protests a little at Edward ordering her around, but it is unconvincing against such events as how romantic it is that Edward spends his nights sneaking into her bedroom and watching her sleep. The writing might be an attempt to write like a seventeen-year-old girl in love might write, but it is drowning in adverbs; everything is ‘utterly absurd’ or ‘gloriously intense’, Edward has a ‘sculpted, incandescent chest’ and ‘scintillating arms’, and he even has an alabaster brow, which I hope is a nod to Anne of Green Gables but I’m worried it’s meant to be sincere.

I can see why Twilight does appeal to teenagers, because Edward is the perfect, older boyfriend, one of the cool kids from high school, who takes her out to dinner and wants to know all about her, always the one restraining himself from taking the relationship further while Bella is eager to progress. I don’t worry about teenagers reading it, because I read piles of books with much worse role models and gender issues than this as a teenager. It’s just disappointing that of all the good books out there, so many people are obsessing over it, but if I could predict what book would sell a million copies I’d have a lot more money.

Your Twilight linkapalooza:
Helen-keeble is more forgiving than I am, and has interesting theories on why Bella appeals to teenagers.
The first of Cleolinda’s many Livejournal posts.
Ide Cyan at the Feminist SF blog talks about the cultural positioning of Twilight.
A feminist takes on Twilight’s abstinence message.
Liz Henry is enjoying it so far (it’s true that Bella does think about how she might think about hurting her attempted muggers, but then Edward comes along and rescues her and tells her how she needs a healthy does of fear).
A set of Livejournal posts on Twilight and mormonism.
And just for the funny, Growing Up Cullen, which fills in what Edward was doing for years and years waiting for his true love to turn up.