|Caroline Stevermer - A College of Magics
||[Feb. 23rd, 2008|08:30 pm]
Perhaps I've become overly critical of late, but I've decided to turn this little-used LJ towards reviewing books and authors. Possibly also music or even television on occasion. I may still write other entries, I may even give this up after a few, but I need A Purpose. So.
I bought (or rather, my mother bought for me) A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer the other day, and having just finished off two other books (Sabriel and Arrow's Fall) and subsequently recovering A College of Magics from the crack between my bed and the wall, I decided to have at it. I'm currently about 100 pages in, and it is worth mentioning that I've read this book before but do not recall any of it.
The name of Caroline Stevermer may be familiar to fans of Patricia Wrede, as they collaborated on three books, starting with Sorcery and Cecilia and concluding with The Mislaid Magician, which I was not even aware existed until today.
I definitely enjoyed both Sorcery and Cecilia and its sequel, The Grand Tour, so when I saw A College of Magics at Borders for the fabulous price of $5.99 (less my mother's 20% educator discount), it seemed an easy decision. Besides which, as I've already said, I remembered reading and enjoying it before.
Unfortunately, when I began to read it, I discovered not only was it failing to meet my expectations of enthrallment, but it also seems to be suffering from an inaccurate back-cover blurb. None of it is out and out untrue, but the correlation between the blurb and the plot as it's developed thus far is somewhat tenuous.
To be blunt, I'm not entirely certain at this point what the plot is. I am sadly reminded of watching Napoleon Dynamite with my then-roommates, and leaving in utter boredom about 20 minutes in, asking to be summoned once the film developed a story line, rather than being a series of unrelated scenes involving the central character. I think it's pretty well agreed upon that stories must have conflict and therefore presumably the goal of resolution to be interesting. Nobody writes books about things that are commonplace. Likewise, it is expected that there be some even towards the beginning of the book to catch your attention. (I think in films it's supposed to be within the first 7 minutes or something.)
Here's the text off the back cover: "Teenager Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the small northern dukedom of Galazon. Too young still to claim her title, her despotic Uncle Brinker has ruled in her place. Now he demands she be sent to Greenlaw College. For her benefit he insists.
"To keep me out of the way, more like it!
"But Greenlaw is not just any school--as Faris and her new best friend Jane discover. At Greenlaw students major in . . . magic.
"But it's not all fun and games. When Faris makes an enemy of classmate Menary of Aravill, life could get downright . . . deadly."
Ignoring how poorly written I find that to be, I still find it to be only passingly relevant. From the beginning, things I take issue with in the blurb:
1. Yes, she's a teenager. Barely. She's 18, an age at which I would have expected her to be allowed to rule her own duchy, but okay. I'd kind of assumed she'd be around 15, given the circumstances and the fact that this was in the young adult section. Still, that's pretty minor.
2. We have yet to see any concrete reasons why Uncle Brinker is despotic. I don't doubt that he'd love to keep ruling in her stead, but other than thoughts of what he *could* be doing to her beloved homeland, we have no good idea why she considers him so terrible.
3. I can't let this slide. Why slip into the first person for just that one line??
4. Jane doesn't become her best friend till second year. First year goes by ridiculously quickly, and a third year named Odile is her friend during that time, though I didn't know until after the fact because she is so little dwelled upon.
5. It's not a secret that magic is taught at Greenlaw. Faris may think it to be a sham at first, but it's no secret.
6. The actual learning of magic is barely mentioned, or even barely occurs. At this point, Faris has learned some basic principles of magic (how there are 4 'wardens' of their world sphere (the lowest of 7); one for each hemisphere), and there was an allusion to them learning magic in their 'tutoring' (which I think is like directed study), but Faris has learned no actual magic yet, and it is made quite clear that the students do not perform (or even practice) magic. There are also references to students doing a 'vigil' (think of the Tamora Pierce's Ordeal for knighthood, only not traumatising), which apparently opens their eyes to magic, or something, but that happens in their third (final) year.
7. She doesn't "make" an enemy of Menary of Avarill; Menary hates her because, in short, Faril also has some sort of claim towards Menary's own duchy. Never mind that it is a claim which Faril has no interest in pursuing.
It could still get deadly, though. So far, a younger student has been endangered and it looks as though Menary may have been behind it, but I wouldn't describe it as a major plot point. Still, with another 350+ pages, there is plenty of time for deadliness to develop, though Menary isn't mentioned often enough for me to expect it from her quarter at this point.
Misleading back cover blurbs aside, the book is just moving really slowly. As I've said, I don't know yet what the conflict is. She's already 2/3 done with her schooling, so it's probably not a tale of her time there, despite the title. Perhaps the last 300ish pages will all be about regaining control from her uncle. It is just strange to me that I'm more than 20% into the book and I have no clue where she is going with this story. Nor has there been any major attention grabbing scene.
That said, the writing has been good (pace aside). The strange lack of clear plot (or even convoluted plot) isn't enough for me to stop reading it, and I must have remembered it being good for some reason, so I'll stick it out. When I've finished it and hopefully remembered why I liked it, I'll come back and give a final opinion.