The Night Circus

I read most of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus curled up on the divan under a fleecy blanket, nursing a steaming mug of milk tea. I was halfway through the book, work was cancelled because of the storm wreaking havoc through the metro, and the power was out, hence I finally got some much-needed quality reading time — my favorite kind! :p

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The Lionboy series by Zizou Corder (Conclusion)

Books 4 and 5 for 2009
Lionboy: The Chase
Lionboy: The Truth

My first read for 2009 was the first book of the Lionboy series, which I deemed average, as it started out slow and took a while to pick up.

But getting through the first book was worth it, as the next books in the series prove why Lionboy holds up admirably as a fantasy series.

The series is quite inventive – a boy who can speak Cat; a world with no petroleum; a money-grubbing pharmaceutical giant that creates illnesses to generate a demand for its products; a pack of lions who want to go home – and the whole bliddy circus!

I think the mother-daughter team behind Zizou Corder really got into their groove with the next two books, which had me swiftly turning pages to the end. The story’s framework falls into place, and the story flows more fluidly.

I like the character development in the books, both for the human characters and the animals. Charlie Ashanti, the protagonist, grows on you, with his spunk, intelligence, and Dickensian goodness that shines through without appearing clichéd or contrived.

The rest of the humans make a delightful supporting cast – the misguided (and unlucky) Rafi; Charlie’s unconventional but loving parents Aneba and Magdalen; the half-crazed lion trainer Maccomo; the jolly adventurer King Boris and the loyal (and I suspect dreamy!) Claudio – but it is the animals who steal the show.

I have to say it again, I’m not a fan of talking animals, because they’re normally just two things – twee and cutesy, or excessively symbolic, but the main animal characters in Lionboy stand out because of the right mix of animal-ness and personification. It was also particularly enjoyable for me because of the instrumental roles that felines play in the series, although those who are freaked out by cats (I can think of certain people) would likely cringe while reading this book.

Of the lions, my favorites are Primo the smilodon, who evokes the raw earthiness of a prehistoric animal; and the feisty Elsina. Sergei the cat makes a wonderful wisecracking sidekick, while Ninu the chameleon was a stroke of genius.

Another thing I like about the book: the vivid descriptions. They live in a world similar to ours but gone off on a tangent, and it is successfully established in the little details incorporated into the story rather than handed out in tidy exposition. The adventure is also more exciting because the highly imaginative settings were truly fleshed out: the Circe, the floating circus, because it was wild and raucous as a circus should be; Venice, (I love books set in Venice – there’s just something magical and madly romantic about the place); the exotic Essaouira; and even the Corporacy communities – you could just feel what it’s like to live there.

Fred Van Deelen’s whimsical maps and illustrations also serve as the perfect complement to the vivid descriptions. There are score sheets interspersed with the text, too — the series has a soundtrack by Robert Lockhart, I hope I can find it on the Internet.

As the series progresses, it delves more and more into themes of environmentalism and stewardship, genetics, and even discrimination, and it’s admirable how it’s presented in a way a young reader would understand, without any preachy-ness to it, because they’re all incorporated into the story.

And one last highlight: the book is so bliddy British! I generally like British authors more than American ones (especially in fantasy, and in chicklit) because they write better, and the humor is just so spot on. And yes, you can read this book with an accent, and have loads of fun with the Britspeak, particular when Sergei or Rafi are speaking.

Yep, I’ve definitely had my kip.

My copy: Lionboy: The Chase, large paperback from the NBS bargain bin, about P99; Lionboy: The Truth, paperback, also from the NBS bargain bin, P30. See, impulse buys can pay off, and it feels much better when a bargain book turns out to be a great read! :)

My rating: Lionboy: The Chase, 4/5 stars; Lionboy: The Truth, 4/5 stars.
Lionboy series: 4/5 stars.

Photos from fantastic fiction UK

MirrorMask by Neil Gaiman/ Dave McKean

(The review pertains to the film, but I’m posting it because I have the film book :) )

I have to say that I loved MirrorMask! And since I’m not a Gaiman fan, and I’m very selective on fantasy (I’m really not big into the hardcore stuff), this is saying a lot.

The movie has Dave McKean written all over it; it’s like a picture book brought to life. It’s dark, with a bit of The Nightmare Before Christmas feel to it, only with a Dave McKean look, and it’s funny and creepy and weird all at the same time.

The story is simple enough; any more complicated than that and it’ll overpower the animation and effects. It’s about Helena, a 15 year old girl in a family of circus entertainers, who often wishes she could run off and join real life. After a fight with her parents about her future plans, her mother falls quite ill and Helena is convinced that it is all her fault. On the eve of her mother’s major surgery, she dreams that she is in a strange world with two opposing queens, bizarre creatures, and masked inhabitants. All is not well in this new world – the white queen has fallen ill and can only be restored by the MirrorMask, and it’s up to Helena to find it. But as her adventures continue, she begins to wonder whether she’s in a dream, or something far more sinister.

It’s a very visual movie; there is a lot to take in, as it’s a world unfamiliar to the viewer; but it’s enhanced by the emotion of the story, and the mirror motif is further enhanced by the mirroring of events in the real world (Helena’s real life as she’s replaced by the mirror-self) and the fantasy world.

It’s similar to Coraline, which is similar to one Are You Afraid of the Dark books I read ages ago (only it was better than Coraline).

I don’t know if it was shown here in the Philippines though; it’s dated 2005. I just discovered I had the DVD when Trina told me it was really good. It’s the sort of thing I’d shell out several hundred bucks for to watch over and over again, once for the overall impact, and several times more to catch the nuances… Dave McKean is sooo amazing; I even caught a scene where two hands touching each other looked like Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, I don’t know if that was intentional, but it’s still pure genius.

You just have to watch this.

My copy: A squarish hardbound book with dustjacket, the Children’s edition of the film book. Mooched from Canada last year.

My rating: 5/5 stars

photo courtesy of Amazon (