Review: The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel

You might remember we reviewed the Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, in which a magical girl ended up at a magical school, collected nearly a dozen magical friends, joined a dueling society, investigated a mystery, saw an omen that heralds the doom of worlds, headed off an attack by an army of dozens of mind-controlled students, saved the entire campus, and provided support for a battle that involved the dragon that used to be Professor Moriarty.Not bad for the first week, huh?

No. Sorry, my mistake. It’s not bad for the first five days of school. Take that, Harry Potter.

How do I know that book one was the first week? Because book two opens only a few hours after the end of book 1, and states she’s only been there five days.

If the books get any more dense, we’re going to have to call Rachel Griffin “Jack Bauer.”

And no. There are no spoilers in the opening. Trust me, that’s nothing without the context. Because it’s even MORE awesome in context.

And then, we have book two, The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel. The plot wraps up a lot of plot threads from book 1. And there’s a lot to wrap up: the raven that heralds the doom of worlds; the Outsiders from other worlds; the “Lightbringer,” the ones behind Moriarty; the one behind THAT threat; Rachel’s relationship status; the story behind Rachel’s father and his work as an agent … there’s an awful lot kicking around. And we aren’t even going to get into all of the new various and sundry plot elements.

In spy novels, most people will cite John Le Carre, usually for good reason. As far as I’m concerned, his crowning achievement were his George Smiley novels. The middle book of his Carla trilogy was called The Honorable Schoolboybook 1, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, ended with the discovery of a mole in MI^, and his unmasking. Much of the second book is walking back the cat — going through the mole’s history and discovering exactly what havoc he hath wrought upon the spy service during his period working for the other team.  Much of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel proceeds forward in a similar manner. Book one was so dense, and the implications from them so vast, we essentially need an after action report just to get a good idea of the fallout.

In fact, the first 100 pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel handles: recaping the first book, reintroducing the characters, walks back the cat on the enemies from book 1, as well as sets up the conflict going forward.  Not bad, huh?

So, if you think that the first book ended a little abruptly, without any follow through, there’s a good reason for that. It would have added another 50-100 pages. This follows hot on the heels of book 1, only hours after the battle royale is over. Even Terry Goodkind waited for the next day before the blowback kicked in. But don’t worry, there is enough solid data here that you can read these books back to back without it being a problem. How do I know that? Because I have three other people I convinced to read these books who did just that. And I’m going from #2 directly to #3.

On a Superversive level, it works fine. We have good guys, bad guys, a relatively clear sense of right and wrong (Rachel’s a 13 year old who worries over right and wrong, so things go a little gray, as we are in her POV), a charming little romance in the middle, men are men, girls are girls, and there will be chivalry or THERE WILL BE DOOM. (Long story. Bit of an in joke. People who have read the novels will get it). So, yeah, I think it covers that threshold.

On a Pulp level, if that’s what you’re into, let’s see … we have dark demonic forces trying to destroy the world, human sacrifice, magical duels, divine protectors, small dragons, huge dragons, shape shifters who turn into dragons, a superhero, and a breakneck pace so fast that this one is the slower of the two novels, and I still finished 400 pages in a day. If that’s not Pulpy enough for you, I suggest reading the books to see everything I left out.

For those of you who fear the repetitive nature of YA books … no. Not at all. There is nothing repeated here. In fact, this one continues to wrap up plot threads left over from the first books — there actually were plot threads dangling, but I didn’t realize it with all the screaming, chaos, and running about in the grand shootout in the finale. I’m almost afraid to see how the series will end…. answer: in fire, probably.

And good God, the references. Everywhere. I think you need a degree in classical literature and be in on the jokes of three different languages and five different cultures in order to get all of the little hints and nods and such in the novels. But that’s a general observation, not specific to this book.

Now, I’ve seen that Jagi doesn’t like having her book compared ti Harry Potter. I know. It’s not fair to JK Rowling. But I’ve given book 1 to other people. And they read only 10% into Unexpected Enlightenment and decided that it was a deeper and richer world than Potter. And the farther in we go, the deeper everything is. Or maybe it just shows us how shallow Potter was and we never realized it. There are no johnny one-note characters here. Everyone has different emotions and moods and personalities. Hell, I think Rachel went through more emotions over the course of any five pages of The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel than the entire body of Hogwarts in 7 novels. That may be unfair, but I don’t think so.

In The Raven, The Elf, And Rachel, you see more sides to people we’ve already seen. Whether it’s the magical prince of Australia, or the Artful Dodger and his pet dragon, or even Vladimir von Dread (I’m almost certain that his family crest reads DREAD IS BAVARIA. BAVARIA IS DREAD, but I haven’t asked yet). In fact, if she ever wants to do an anthology, I call dibs on von Dread shorts, he’s just that interesting. It is a vast and colorful crew, and I suspect we’re going to see more of their own backstories as time goes on.

At the end of the day, the Rachel Griffin novels are very much in the tradition of Narnia. As one reviewer once sniffed, “These are too good to be wasted on children.” Heh.

SHORT VERSION: five out of five. Go read it.

The Dragon Awards are open and ready for nominations, and I have a list of suggestions you might want to take a look at. If you already  have a good idea of what you want, just click here to go and vote for them. The instructions are right there.

The Love at First Bite series. 
    

Science Blast! New Continent Fights for Life!

How often do new (okay, newly defined) land masses fight for their very existence! Another perfect setting for pulp stories: re-emerged Zeelandia.

Earth from space

Lurking beneath New Zealand is a long-hidden continent called Zealandia, geologists say. But since nobody is in charge of officially designating a new continent, individual scientists will ultimately have to judge for themselves.

A team of geologists pitches the scientific case for the new continent in the March/April issue of GSA Today, arguing that Zealandia is a continuous expanse of continental crust covering around 4.9 million square kilometers. That’s about the size of the Indian subcontinent. Unlike the other mostly dry continents, around 94 percent of Zealandia hides beneath the ocean. Only New Zealand, New Caledonia and a few small islands peek above the waves.

“If we could pull the plug on the world’s oceans, it would be quite clear that Zealandia stands out about 3,000 meters above the surrounding ocean crust,” says study coauthor Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand. “If it wasn’t for the ocean level, long ago we’d have recognized Zealandia for what it was — a continent.”

Read more…