China Miéville – Railsea

Octopusses, trains, and garbage – that’s how you recognize a China Miéville novel. In this case, there is a distinct lack of octopusses but to make up for it, we get trains and garbage galore. The elevator pitch for this YA novel is “Moby Dick with trains instead of ships” but Railsea is so much more.

railseaRAILSEA
by China Miéville

Published by: Macmillan, 2012
ISBN: 0230765122
Paperback: 376 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: This is the story of a bloodstained boy.

On board the moletrain “Medes,” Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt: the giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory. But no matter how spectacular it is, Sham can’t shake the sense that there is more to life than traveling the endless rails of the railsea-even if his captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it’s a welcome distraction. But what Sham finds in the derelict–a series of pictures hinting at something, somewhere, that should be impossible–leads to considerably more than he’d bargained for. Soon he’s hunted on all sides, by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham’s life that’s about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

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Sham is a young doctor’s apprentice aboard the mole train Medes but he’s really not that sure that this is what he wants to do with his life. Instead of helping doctor Vurinam or even hunting giant moles, a salvor’s job looks much more appealing. But Captain Naphi is obsessed with hunting her philosophy, a gigantic ivory-colored moldywarpe that bit off her left arm.
What starts as a riff on Moby Dick turns into something entirely different very soon. Yes, Captain Naphi desperately wants to kill that white mole and yes, Sham tags along because he happens to work on her train. But this gimmick has been given way too much attention in marketing this book.

China Miéville has always been playful with language and he continues that tradition with new verve. Any given review mentions his use of the ampersand instead of the word “and”. This includes the copyright page and the acknowledgements. Some readers may find it disrupting but I took to it immediately and quite loved it by the end. But it isn’t just this most obvious trick he plays on us readers. Take Abacat Naphi – an anagram for Captain Ahab – or words like nu-salvage and arche-salvage. Miéville’s language contributes greatly to his worldbuilding and should not be underestimated just because the ampersand is a bit obvious. Of course this is purely a love-or-hate question of taste. I am glad I am one of the ampersand-lovers.

railsea mole

©China Miéville

Of course, worldbuilding is done in more than one fashion and, let me tell you, this world is insane. I had a hard time suspeding my disbelief, especially in the beginning. Imagining a Robert Louis Stevenson story set on a train may sound plausible to begin with, but think about the concept of the railsea. Endless rails, running next to each other, intermingling, making it possible for trains to switch and steer and not just go straight ahead but turn in every direction at the turn of a lever. It is mindboggling and China Miéville deserves all the credit for making it believable.

I was also quite taken by the idea that the upsky is polluted to bits and populated by the most vicious flying animals you can imagine. The same goes for the earth – naked earth that’s not covered by rails, that is – you take one step on the earth and some creepy, crawling creature or other will burrow its way up to devour you. Let’s just say it’s not pretty. The only safe place to live is on islands off the railsea. These come with harbors and cities and trade, the way you’d expect it of terra firma. The railsea, on the other hand, is crawling with huge animals, mole trains, salvors, and – are you really surprised? – pirates!

We follow Sham on an adventure that may at first seem like it isn’t even his but captain Naphi’s. But undecided as he may start,  he soon finds his own kind of philosophy and pursues it with every bit of passion he can muster. On this journey, he falls into the hands of pirates, meets salvors and railsea nomads, acquires a pet daybat (who is incredibly lovable), and helps two siblings find out the truth about their parents. A nice surprise in a novel that clearly follows the tradition of Melville and Stevenson was the presence of women. Not only do we get a female train captain, but we get the clever half of the Shroakes siblings, Caldera, several women harpoonists and a female salvor who isn’t nearly as cold on the inside as she lets on.
This is part adventure novel, part coming-of-age story, part science fiction and part meta fiction – and probably some other parts that I forgot. There is very much to love about Railsea.

©China Miéville

©China Miéville

One last thing I must mention is how the author breaks the fourth wall. Every so often, he will speak to us readers directly, taunt and tease us about that other plotline that has been dropped a while back and that we yearn to return to. In the very beginning, we zoom out of the image of a bloodstained Sham, turn back time, to begin the story where the narrator deems it appropriate. And like a polite and friendly story teller, he lets us in on some of his secrets. Close to the end, he explains that this could have been a very different tale. But in finest Miéville fashion, he is well aware that the story is not his alone and that we, the readers, have the power to create something new from it.

Had you been in charge you would, even had you started & ended in the same places, have described a different figure. A different “&.” But nothing’s done. If you tell any of this to others, you can drive, & if you wish, go elsewhere on the way. Until then, safe travels & thank you.

Railsea was a fantastic, fun, engaging read that I would put in the hands of any Miéville fan as well as people who are unsure about where to start. At 376 pages, it is one of his slimmer  novels and the ideas, while fantastic, aren’t quite as dark or wacky as in, say, Perdido Street Station. While marketed at “younger readers”, people of any age will find enjoyment in this story. Whether it is word play or worldbuilding, characters or adventurous plot that tickles you most, there is something in here for everybody. And – dare I mention it… – the ending is awesome!

MY RATING: 8,5  –  Quite excellent!

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Second opinions:

Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

I almost thought I could write a somewhat nuanced review for a Cat Valente book, just this once. But after finishing the third Fairyland adventure, I find myself looking for words to match my feelings. Prepare for another not-too-eloquent but all-the-more-gushing love letter to Fairyland and September and a certain marid called Saturday.

fairyland 3THE GIRL WHO SOARED OVER FAIRYLAND AND CUT THE MOON IN TWO
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by: Feiwel & Friends, 2013
ISBN: 1250023505
Hardcover: 248 pages
Series: Fairyland #3
My rating: 9/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, a girl named September told a great number of lies.

September misses Fairyland and her friends Ell, the Wyverary, and the boy Saturday. She longs to leave the routines of home, and embark on a new adventure. Little does she know that this time, she will be spirited away to the moon, reunited with her friends, and find herself faced with saving Fairyland from a moon-Yeti with great and mysterious powers.

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September is now 14 years old and trying very hard to be a grown-up. That means keeping her emotions in check when they try to run away with her, but it also means looking to the future. Knowing that her Persephone visa requires her to revisit Fairyland every year, she starts saving money from the odd jobs she does around the neighborhood. Her father is back from the war and while his leg still ails him, the little family seems much happier and well-rounded.

But September is like us voracious readers. She desperately wants to return to Fairyland and see her friends, Ell and Saturday. She spent all year missing them, keeping her secret, and preparing, as best she could, for the journey to Fairyland. But this summer, no Wind shows up to whisk her away. Summer goes by and not a Wyverary in sight. Of course, the one thing we can be sure of is that September does make it back to Fairyland and, after being officially named a Criminal and Revolutionary, goes straight to the Moon.

fairyland 3 aroostook

As anybody who follows my meandering reading life will know, I have the highest expectations for a Cat Valente book. I expect them to enchant me and touch me and deliver wisdom in the most beautiful language while telling a riveting tale of adventure and fun. Let’s get the fangirling out of the way first and then I’ll try and talk like a sensible human being about what is another phenomenal book by one of the best fantasy writers of our time.

I didn’t warm to The Girl Who Soared immediately, as I did to its two predecessors. Much like September, I found the real world bland and painful compared to the colorful Fairyland, and I longed to return there. In my opinion, it took entirely too long to get to Fairyland and – especially – to find Ell and Saturday again. September is a heroine who can very well go adventuring by herself. She doesn’t need a wyverary or a marid to survive the fairie’s jokes or the Blue Winds’ cruel words. But I need them! I hadn’t realised just how attached I had grown to A-Through-L and Saturday, but passing almost the entire first half of the book without them was torture.

September does find her friends again, eventually, and where else would Ell be found than in a library…

A silent Library is a sad Library. A Library without patrons on whom to pile books and tales and knowing and magazines full of up-to-the-minute politickal fashions and atlases and plays in pentameter! A Library should be full of exclamations! Shouts of delight and horror as the wonders of the world are discovered or the lies of the heavens uncovered or the wild adventures of devil-knows-who sent romping out of the pages. A Library should be full of now-just-a-minutes and that-can’t-be-rights and scientifick folk running skelter to prove somebody wrong. It should positively vibrate with laughing at comedies and sobbing at tragedies, it should echo with gasps as decent ladies glimpse indecent things and indecent ladies stumble upon secret and scandalous decencies! A Library should not shush; it should roar!

Once I got Ell back, I was immediately happier – if a little worried about the curse that has been put on him. But it was the reunion with Saturday that really broke me. “All the feels” does not begin to cut it. The author has slyly built up emotion over the course of these three books, and I thought I was clever enough to catch her doing it, to anticipate her next move. But I didn’t expect certain things to hit me as hard as they did. I have to be very vague about this or else I’ll ruin your reading pleasure. But trust me, if you think the first half of The Girl Who Soared is a bit slow, keep reading. It pays off a thousandfold by the end. I definitely cried a tear or two.

We have come to know that mixing mythology and original ideas is one of the author’s specialties and she continues to do it rather well. Be it a moon-Yeti, a whelk that is also a city, a taxicrab (check out Ana Juan’s gorgeous illustration below) or two Lunaticks, one gets the sense that these strange creatures are somehow old friends that we’ve met in fairytales and mythology books and fantasy movies from the 80s. Yet at the same time, their strangeness adds another layer to Valente’s version of Fairlyand.

fairyland 3 taxicrab

And it is this brilliant, coy kind of world-building that makes it so hard for me to let go at the end of every book. We readers understand how it works. A year passes in our world, September goes to Fairyland, comes back, waits another year for her next trip. This was hard enough to bear in the first two books. There was never enough time in Fairyland to spend with her friends, without having to save the world or staging a coup or fixing her own mistakes. This time around, the ending was particularly shattering, and I honestly don’t know if the book hangover I’m feeling will go away until the next volume is out.

And now has come the time to confess that I lied. As hard as I try, I cannot form a rational sentence or start a sensible discussion about Valente’s books. They are too close to my heart to think about like an adult. So the gushing and fangirling and undiluted love is all you’re going to get.

THE GOOD: Plot-twists galore, heartbreaking reunions with well-loved characters, beautiful prose and a world full of colorful and fantastic creatures.
THE BAD:
A sluggish and slightly episodic beginning.
THE VERDICT:
Just read all the Fairyland books, will you?

MY RATING: 9/10 – Close to perfection!

divider1The Fairyland Series:

  1. fairyland 1-3The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
  2. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
  3. The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

Review: Kristin Cashore – Graceling

I like using re-reads as an excuse to buy audiobooks. When I found out that this particular version was a full cast audiobook – and unabridged! – I was in heaven. Hearing a distinct voice for each character made this audio experience just perfect, and the narrator, with his kind-uncle-storyteller voice, rounded it up very well. My rating may have gone up since I last read this, simply because the audio version deserves some extra credit.

GRACELING
by Kristin Cashore

Published: Full Cast Audio, 2009
ISBN: 1934180890
Pages: 471
Hours: 12,5
Copy: audiobook
Series: The Seven Kingdoms #1

My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: In these dungeons the darkness was complete, but Katsa had a map in her mind.

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight—she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s thug.
When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away… a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

I remember first reading this when it came out in paperback and being drawn into the story very quickly. Katsa is a wonderfully independent heroine and she stays true to herself throughout the entire story – despite a scrumptious love interest, she never loses sight of who she is, and she keeps her convictions. This is something I don’t see a lot in YA fiction. Mostly, the appearance of a man makes the female lead change her world view and, in proper Twilight fashion, turns the man into the focal point of the girl’s life. Not so in Graceling.

This is clearly a character-driven book. Kristin Cashore does have a story to be told but the plot is simple and straight-forward and, in and of itself, not very exciting. But she also gives us a small cast of characters that are intriguing enough to stay interested and, at times, glued to the pages. Katsa and Po’s interaction was enough for me to keep reading. Their development is believable and heartbreaking. I said Katsa stayed true to herself but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t change. Po teaches her new things about herself, and falling in love is always a pivotal point in life. All of this, the author brought across in this novel, and it was as thrilling on a re-read as it was the first time around.

Maybe I have become more critical since I first read this, but the prose didn’t strike me as particularly good. A lot of times, we learn Katsa’s thoughts, then hear them again, repeated in speech. The structure is plain, the narrative straight-forward. It’s not great but it also isn’t terrible. The repetitions got on my nerves every once in a while but not enough to diminish my enjoyment of the story.

What really strikes me about this book is how daring it is. It breaks the clichés of YA fantasy romances while retaining all the elements that make it captivating. A strong, independent heroine, a love story that is subtle and overwhelming at the same time (in a good way), and an ending that’s not all happy, but all the more convincing.

On the audio version:
This was the first time I had an entire book read to me, with an actor for each character. It was a wonderful experience to get the unabridged story told to you. I thought that Katsa and Po’s voices were well-chosen, and I was especially pleased with Bitterblue. She sounds young enough to be believable but the actress brought a dignity to her voice that brought Bitterblue’s character to life. To create even more atmosphere, at the end and beginning of most chapters, there is a little background music – which is totally up my alley. It is a costly audiobook, sure, but it’s worth it. I might actually listen to this again many times.

I wanted to re-read this for a while and the recent publication of Bitterblue gave me the necessary kick in the butt. I will attack the third book set in the Graceling Realm very soon, because I had forgotton how intriguing Bitterblue is as a character and can’t wait to find out how she holds up in her own novel.

THE GOOD: An independent heroine, a beautiful love story, and strong characters all around.
THE BAD: Simple writing, not the most action-packed plot.
THE VERDICT: If you like YA romances set in a fantasy world, pick this up. I just loved to see a truly strong female protagonist who doesn’t lose her head when she falls in love. There should be more heroines like Katsa.

RATING: 7,5/10 Very good

The Seven Kingdoms Trilogy/Graceling Realm Trilogy:

  1. Graceling
  2. Fire
  3. Bitterblue

Related posts:

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle

It must be the healthy air or simply the fact that during your holidays you can relax and finally get to some books you’ve neglected. Which is why I thought I’d get right into my resolutions for the second half of 2012 and kicked the list off with Dodie Smith’s classic novel. I caught the beginning of the movie a while ago and was so enchanted that I felt I would love to book. And I did. Truly, I loved it… and hated it. Here’s why:

I CAPTURE THE CASTLE
by Dodie Smith

published: Vintage, 2004 (1948)
ISBN:0099460874
pages: 416
copy: paperback

my rating: 6,5/10

first sentence: I am sitting in the kitchen sink.

This enchanting novel tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her unusual family who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Cassandra’s eccentric father is a writer whose first book took the literary world by storm but he has since failed to write a single word and now spends his time reading detective fiction. Cassandra’s sister, Rose, despairs of her family’s circumstances and determines to marry their affluent American landlord. She is helped and, sometimes, hindered in this by their bohemian stepmother, an artists’ model who likes to commune with nature. Finally there is Stephen who is hopelessly in love with Cassandra. Amid this maelstrom Cassandra hones her writing skills, candidly capturing the events that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love.

Our heroine Cassandra leads us into the enchanted world of the castle she lives in with her rather eccentric family. As she writes her diary (which we read), we see just how bad poverty can get and with how little this strange family can be content. Cassandra’s thoughts and observations are surprisingly deep for a girl her age. Without any envy, she describes her older sister’s beauty, without bitterness she talks about the way her father never wrote again, after the initial success of his novel. But her life is boring and observing and trying to “capture” the people and landscapes around her is not as fulfilling as she would hope. When two young men enter the neighbourhood (very Jane Austen, isn’t it?), her life changes forever…

I was instantly feeling sympathetic towards our narrating heroine. Her family suffer but manage to creatue happiness in their very own way, and I enjoyed reading about their little routines and rituals. But Cassandra got on my nerves very quickly. Precocious – yes. Smart-ass? Not so much. The way she always sets herself apart from the group and describes, sometimes quite coldly, what is happening, made her feel cold and arrogant to me. She certainly doesn’t think too much of herself but I couldn’t shake the feeling that she considered herself a notch above everybody else – for she is the one who captures everything, who sees more than others. Or who would like to. Her flaws make her believable but personally, I just couldn’t really like her.

The plot dragged a little and felt like a soap opera at times. But the love and engagement and childish fun and unrequited love mixed with the very mature style made this a nicely balanced book. I didn’t pine for anyone, I didn’t really care who ended up with whom. But I did find myself wanting to go back to the book whenever I put it down.

It suddenly seemed astonishing that people should meet especially to eat together – because food goes into the mouth and talk comes out. And if you watch people eating and talking – really watch them – it is a very peculiar sight.

An unlikable protagonist is one thing but a whole cast of lovable, deep side characters make up for it. Rose and Topaz, Stephen (above all) and even our two gentlemen captured my heart by storm. I did care a lot about them and would have actually liked to see more of their perspectives. This being a diary, however, that wasn’t possible. I look forward to finishing the movie and I hope the focus is not so heavily set on Cassandra’s fate alone. Her coming-of-age story is certainly better than a lot of modern YA tales I’ve read but it’s far from my favorite…

THE GOOD: Concise and beautiful writing, a very different family life from what I know, in a romantic setting with a heroine full of ideas and thoughts.
THE BAD: Not really a bad point but I didn’t warm to the narrator. Which dragged the entire story down a bit.
THE VERDICT: If, like the sisters in this book, you like Austen and Bronte and can’t decided with romance you’d rather live in, you’ll probably enjoy this story. A young girl’s coming-of-age with love, betrayal, and a castle.

RATING: 6,5/10  Very good with some reservations.

Jo Walton – Among Others

Nach dem unglaublichen Mechanique, habe ich meine ganze Hoffnung in die anderen Bücher gesetzt, die dieses Jahr für den Nebula Award nominiert sind. Doch dieses hoch gelobte Buch wäre auch ohne so große Konkurrenz eine Enttäuschung geworden. Vermutlich ist es Geschmackssache, aber mir entzieht sich, warum Kritiker und Autoren so von diesem Roman schwärmen. Für mich las er sich wie eine zweitklassige Coming-of-Age-Geschichte mit ganz viel Name Dropping.

Deutscher Titel: noch nicht bekannt
Erschienen: 2011
Seiten: 302
Erschienen bei: Tor

Meine Bewertung: 3,5/10

Erster Satz: The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.

In Tagebuchform von der 15-jährigen Morganna Phelps geschrieben, erzählt dieses Buch ihre Geschichte nach einem tragischen Unfall, in dem ihre Zwillingsschwester Morwenna ums Leben kam und sie selbst die Fähigkeit, ohne Stock zu gehen, verloren hat. Das junge Mädchen wird aus ihrer Heimat in Wales auf ein Internat in England gesteckt, für das ihr bisher unbekannter Vater (da geschieden) bezahlt. Sie fühlt sich abgeschoben und ungewollt, findet nur schwer Freunde und flüchtet sich in die Welt der Bücher. Science Fiction Romane verschlingt sie am liebsten. Und immer wieder spricht sie von den Feen, die in unserer Welt versteckt leben…

Morganna – kurz Mor oder Mori – kam mir von Anfang an sehr reif für ihr Alter vor. Die Gedanken, die sie sich über das Leben, Sex und die Schule macht, sind sehr erwachsen, aber überzeugend. Ein Mädchen, das viel liest, lernt schließlich auch, seinen eigenen Kopf zu benutzen. Als Charakter war sie mir persönlich zu unsympathisch. Ihre unsoziale Art, wie sie auf ihre Mitschülerinnen hinabsieht – auch wenn diese teilweise etwas dümmliche Mädchen sind – und wie sie sich von allen fernhält, konnte ich nicht nachvollziehen. Ihre Tagebucheinträge sind dafür angenehm kurz.

Das Problem mit diesem Roman ist, dass er sehr langatmig ist – und dass auf gerade mal 300 Seiten! – und dass man, abgesehen vom Erwachsenwerden der Protagonistin, keinen Plot entdecken kann. Mor berichtet von ihrem Alltag in der Schule, den Büchern, die sie liest und immer wieder schwingt mit, dass ihre Mutter, vor der sie geflohen ist, eine schreckliche Person und vielleicht sogar eine Hexe ist. Allerdings erhalten wir dazu so wenige Information wie zu den Feen und somit hat sich bei mir keinerlei Interesse für die Hintergründe eingestellt.

Die Magie, die schon das Cover vermuten lässt, kommt fast gar nicht zur Geltung. Es kommt keinerlei Stimmung auf, die Autorin trickst in den wenigen Szenen, in denen Mor zaubert und lässt sie in ihr Tagebuch schreiben, dass sie lieber keine Details erwähnt. Feen werden zwar immer wieder erwähnt, als seltsame Wesen, die an Bäumen lehnen und keine klare Form haben, aber auch die Dialoge, die gehalten werden, bekommen wir Leser nicht zu sehen. Ob das Faulheit, Ideenlosigkeit oder Absicht ist, ist schwer zu sagen. Mich hat es jedenfalls furchtbar gestört und die Geschichte hätte wesentlich besser werden können, wenn man das ganze magische Element einafch weggelassen hätte.

Sprachlich ist das Buch zwar in Ordnung, aber weder besonders originell noch besonders berührend. Nur Mangel an Fehlern zeichnet noch kein gutes Buch aus. Ebenso wie “Dinge passieren” noch lange keinen Plot ergeben. Und hier passieren nicht einmal besonders viele Dinge. Mors Alltag ist trübe, sie verliert sich in ihrem Tagebuch in Landschaftsbeschreibungen und berichtet von Briefen, die sie an ihren Opa schreibt, in dem sie Treffen ankündigt, über die wir dann später lesen müssen.

Am besten haben mir noch die Erwähnungen der vielen Bücher gefallen, die Mor liest und über die sie grübelt. Einige davon habe ich selbst gelesen, auf andere habe ich richtig Lust bekommen. Ihre Liebe zu Büchern war auch das einzige, worin ich mich selbst wieder erkannt habe. Was das Lesen und die Liebe zu Büchern betrifft, fühlte ich mich von Mor einfach verstanden. Aber auch dieses Element zerbröselt irgendwann in sinnloses Namedropping ohne Hintergrund. Die großer Ironie ist ja, dass Mor und ihre Freunde teilweise literarische Werke kritisieren aufgrund von Mängeln, die Jo Waltons Buch hier selbst – und zwar viel extremer – aufweist.

Das Ende ist stumpf und uninteressant, fühlt sich wenig abgerundet an. Hätte Jo Walton die “Magie” einfach weggelassen und sich mehr auf die Familienverhältnisse konzentriert, hätte das ein schönes Buch werden können. So wurde es leider vor alle mit fortschreitender Seitenzahl eher eine Qual.

Wie dieses Buch eine Nebula-Nominierung bekommen hat, ist mir ein Rätsel, aber neben Mechanique von Genevieve Valentine (lesen!) hat Jo Walton nicht die geringste Chance.

Ich hoffe, mit Jo Waltons Roman Tooth and Claw (Der Clan der Klauen) habe ich etwas mehr Glück.

PRO: Jede Menge Buchtipps für Sci-Fi Fans und solche, die es noch werden wollen. Als begeisterter Leser erkennt man sich teilweise in Mor wieder.
CON: Unsympathische Protagonistin, langweiliger Plot und schlecht konstruierte magische Welt.
FAZIT: Muss man wirklich nicht lesen. Das Jahr 2011 hat weitaus bessere Roman hervorgebracht.

BEWERTUNG: 3,5/10

Lev Grossman – The Magicians

Die nächste Generation von Schrifstellern, die versuchen auf den Harry Potter Zug aufzuspringen, haben sich etwas ausgedacht. Lev Grossman gehört dazu. Ähnlichkeiten mit dem allseits beliebten Zauberlehrling sind nicht abzustreiten, aber in The Magicians erwartet einen ein (mehr oder weniger) erwachsener, oft trübseliger Protagonist aus dem 21. Jahrhunderts. Es wird geflucht, es gibt Sex und Drogen und iPods. Hätte die Geschichte einen schöneren, roten Faden, hätte dies ein wahres Highlight werden können.
Schreibstil und Plot stehen sich hier aber teilweise im Weg.

Deutscher Titel: Fillory – Die Zauberer
Erschienen: 2009 (2010)
Seiten: 416 (617)
Übersetzerin: Stefanie Schäfer
Erschienen bei: Viking, Fischer

Meine Bewertung: 6/10

Erster Satz:Quentin did a magic trick. Nobody noticed.

Quenin Coldwater ist 17, hochbegabt und vom Leben frustriert. Sein letztes Highschooljahr in Brooklyn ist beinahe vorbei, doch statt einem Bürojob träumt Quentin davon, in die magische Welt seiner Kindheit, Fillory, einzutauchen. Die Kinderbuchreihe um die Chatwin Geschwister hat Quentin nie ganz überwunde

n. Darin betreten die Geschwister – nach feinster Narnia-Manier – durch einen Schrank, eine dunkle Gasse, eine Standuhr, das magische Reich Fillory, in dem sie Abenteuer erleben und die Welt von bösen Hexen befreien.

Als Quentin dann auf mysteriöse Art und Weise durch einen kleinen Park in New York wandert und auf der Brakebills Univsersität landet, gibt er zwar seine Träume von Fillory nicht auf, aber immerhin kann er hier ein Studium zum Zauberer abschließen. So Harry Potter, so gut.

Der Vorwurf, dass die Idee sehr an eine von uns allen geliebte 7-teilige Buchreihe erinnert, ist zwar naheliegend, aber nicht wirklich nötig. Denn während Quentin eine Zauberschule besucht, auf der es auch eine magische Sportart gibt, ist das auch schon die größte Gemeinsamkeit mit Harry Potter. Dieses Buch ist erwachsener, weniger fröhlich und fast durchgehend düster und melancholisch. Lev Grossman nimmt die Ähnlichkeiten sogar so gelassen, dass er seine Charaktere immer wieder Kommentare einwerfen lässt wie “Wo ist mein Quidditch Besen?” Quentin freundet sich mit einer Gruppe Kommilitonen an und diese Freundschaft führt zu vielen lustigen Momenten und Szenen. Der Ton des Romans ist aber insgesamt sehr dunkel. Die Clique betrinkt sich fast täglich und ergibt sich – zumindest ab Ende des Studiums – in Drogenexzesse und Orgien. Zumindest darf fast jeder mal mit jedem.
Der Sex und die Tatsache, dass junge Leute nun mal gerne trinken, wenn sie feiern, haben die Charaktere sehr viel glaubhafter gemacht. Lev Grossman hat ein wahnsinniges Talent dafür, einen Charakter in nur wenigen Sätzen lebendig werden zu lassen und ihre Gefühle – vor allem Schuld, Reue, Frustration – zu schildern. Gegen Ende hin jedoch wirkte vor allem der exzessiv konsummierte Alkohol schon etwas gewollt und verkrampft.

Der Schreibstil an sich ist sehr flüssig und bildhaft. Das ist auch der Grund, warum ich diesen Autor im Auge behalten werde. Quentins Gefühle – vor allem die negativen – waren so klar und greifbar beschrieben, dass einem beim Lesen selbst etwas unwohl wird, dass man sich mit ihm schämt und mit ihm Dummheiten begehen würde. Die Entwicklung, die er und seine Freunde bis zum Ende des Buches durchmachen, ist glaubhaft und spannend zu lesen.

Nun zu den negativen Aspekten:

Die Handlung – obwohl in vier Teile unterteilt – liest sich wie zwei getrennte Geschichten. Die erste Hälfte findet fast ausschließlich auf der Brakebills Universität statt und beschäftigt sich mit dem Studium und der Einführung der Charaktere und deren Beziehungen zueinander. Erst ab der Hälfte des Romans beginnt der eigentliche rote Faden, sich zu zeigen. Dieser Zwiespalt hat beim Lesen (zumindest mich) extrem gestört. Es wirkte fast so, als könne sich Lev Grossman nicht entscheiden, welche Geschichte er erzählen will, und ich hatte auch das Gefühl, dass er sich beim zweiten Teil wesentlich weniger Mühe gegeben hat als am Anfang. Denn von der Hälfte bis zum Ende wird Quentins Geschichte immer langweiliger und es dauert sehr lange, bis etwas Angekündigtes endlich passiert. Die letzten paar Seiten haben an Spannung wieder aufgeholt und der Höhepunkt – die Auflösung des großen Mysteriums – war für mich als Leser sehr befriedigend.

Gestört hat außerdem, dass dem Autor – und dem Lektor – einige Fehler unterlaufen bzw. entgangen sind. So wechselt etwa die Haarfarbe der anfangs blonden, mauerblümchenartigen Alice in “dunkles Haar” ohne Erklärung. Und ohne Hinweis, dass sie es eventuell gefärbt haben könnte. Auch ihren Körperbau konnte ich mir nach verschiedensten Beschreibungen nicht mehr vorstellen. Erst heißt es, sie sei fragil und dünn, dann spricht Quentin von ihren “schweren Brüsten” und von einem Kleid, dass sie sich “mit ihrer Figur” nicht leisten könne… Dasselbe passiert mit einem rothaarigen Mädchen, das bei ihrem zweiten Auftauchen in der Geschichte plötzlich blonde Locken hat.
Sicher, für die Geschichte selbst ist das nicht von Bedeutung, aber wenn mir so etwas schon beim durchschnittlich aufmerksamen Lesen auffällt, dann sollte ein Lektor das auch bemerken.

Insgesamt hätte ich mir mehr Magie und mehr Regeln für diese erhofft. Das Buch liest sich stark nach der Einführung in eine Welt, die wir erst in Band 2 – The Magician King – genauer erkunden dürfen. Und genau das werde ich auch tun.

PRO: Charaktere machen eine sichtbare Entwicklung durch. Sehr atmosphärisch, erwachsene Version von Teenager-Zauberern. Flüssiger Schreibstil.
CON: Plot sackt ab der Mitte ab, der rote Faden ist nicht immer vorhanden. Deprimirende Stimmung. Regeln der Magie unklar definiert.
FAZIT: Überzeugende Teenager, großartiger Schreibstil. Empfehlenswerte für alle, die nicht zu sehr an Harry Potter hängen und denen depressive Charaktere nichts ausmachen.

Bewertung: 6/10

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