Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings

January 2017 – 2.5 out of 5 stars

My first completed book for 2017 is the book Song of the Deep by Brian Hastings. This illustrated novelization is based on the video game of the same name and tells the story of Merryn, a little girl who sets off on a quest through the depths of the sea searching for her father who fails to return home from his daily fishing one day, led only by a dream and the stories and lullabies she grew up hearing.

Merryn’s mother is dead to begin with. She died when Merryn was little, though the exact memory of how is lost to her when the story begins. What Merry does retain are the lullabies and stories that her mother used to sing at her bedside and the smell of orchids from when her mother would weave necklaces from their fragrant petals.

When Merryn’s fisherman father does not return home after a full day and night since he left for his daily course on the sea, the girl finds herself refusing to accept that the sea has claimed her father. Instead, she mines the piles of sea junk that he often catches in his nets and has allowed her to keep. Cannibalizing these parts, in the course of a day, she builds herself a submarine (sans any heavy machinery or sophisticated tools, unless she was hiding a welding torch under her raincoat that I missed).

Here is where the story stretches even my suspension of disbelief to the point of breaking. Merry sets out in her little homemade submarine with no food, no water, no way of knowing which way to go, and no way to breathe/recycle air in her remarkably airtight sub (though Hastings does provide manner of explanation for this fairly quickly). I understand the fact that this is a novel for children based on a video game, which by bent of its media format rarely offers explanations for just how things happen, but I still believe that novelizations require a degree of realism or at least believability. Not once does the book note that Merryn eats on this journey, though she harvests food for someone else (so I suppose that it is feasible that she ate some of the food herself, too). There are events that are noted as being impossible that later do in fact happen with no explanation at all as to how.

Now, for the positives: this little book is beautiful. There are ink-line illustrations and prettily drawn borders. The songs and stories are lovely and lilting, and I think it’s a nice companion piece to the video game (which my husband bought the same day that I bought this book). On its own, however, the book just doesn’t hold substantial water (pun intended).

Steadfast by Mercedes Lackey (Elemental Masters)

1-9-15 –I know, I know. Another review of me happily gushing over Mercedes Lackey and her Elemental Masters series. But, as this is the first book that I have read in 2015, it rather does deserve pride of place.

Based on the Steadfast Tin Soldier, this the tale of Katie Langford, a circus acrobat under the fist of an abusive strongman husband who takes her fate into her own hands and runs away. After spending time with Travelers (of whom her mother was one), she makes her way to the seaside town of Brighton. There, assisted by (what else?) magic, she lands a position as a magician’s assistant at a dance hall. What Katie does not know is that Lionel, her new employer, is also an elemental Air magician. Not only that, but the doorman of the dance hall, Jack, is also one, though his element is Fire. Together these two men realize early on that something is different about Katie and there very much is. She is attuned to Fire, the most emotional of the elements. Lionel and Jack take it upon themselves to, firstly, convince Katie of the existence of magic and, secondly, to train her in her newfound abilities. Lionel was taught from childhood by his father in the skill of his element and so takes over Katie’s initial training, then transferring her over to Jack in the specifics of her element. The friendship that blossoms between these three is wonderful to read, the three different lives represented by Lionel, Katie, and Jack making a wonderful tapestry against which this story is set. What is also beautiful is the camaraderie that develops between Katie and the Fire Elementals, a strong relationship for a magician so young in her abilities.

As Fire is the most emotional of the elements, the emotion of this book is high and deep. It will make your heart swell, leap into your throat, and wring tears from yours eyes. And, of all the stories that I have read thus far, it ends in such a lovely fairy tale fashion that Disney should be quite jealous indeed.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Begun 1/7/2014  – It’s been seven years in the waiting but, finally, the newest novel by Diane Setterfield is here! I adored The Thirteen Tale and have been waiting for more work by Setterfield ever since. So my Christmas was quite wonderful as this book was gifted to me. 🙂 Setterfield’s newest work, released in November 2013, Bellman & Black begins very promisingly, starting out with a boyhood proof of prowess, which leads to the death of an innocent rook and the enigmatic guilt settling upon the shoulders of the boy responsible: William Bellman. A boy in black, not to mention the strange parish of rooks, regards William from the hill where the rook fell beneath his slingshot, sending a chill over the ten-year-old boy as he runs home and applies his mind to its most difficult task to date: forgetting. But, as most would tell you, one act can haunt you for an entire lifetime.
Fast forward seven years and William Bellman is a comely young man of seventeen, talented, sharp-witted, admirable. After church one Sunday, his mother Dora is approached by her brother-in-law, her absconded husband’s brother, to request her blessing in his current idea: to invite William to work with him at Bellman’s Mill. Dora has no dealings with the Bellman family for the most part, as Phillip’s marriage to her went against their wishes. She is against the idea of William going into the business of the family that rejected him but he is excited and wishes to give it a try. As with almost everything else in his life, he is successful at each task to which he turns his hand, proving himself a hard and intelligent worker. There are but two tasks in the mill which he declines to even try, one of them being the dye house. Mr. Lowe, the head dyer, has no use for the prodigal Bellman boy, or pretty much anyone else for that matter. But William has ideas and enthusiasm. Within a year, William has accomplished the one thing that Bellman Mill was never able to produce: a good crimson fabric. As his uncle Paul wonders, the boy has been there only a year. What could he do if given free reign?
I love Diane’s writing style. It flows so well that the pages fly by. In a short amount of time, I had sped through 51 pages of this novel, ten chapters.  She modulates the length of chapters based on what needs to be said in each and, while some of them are exceedingly short, the effect is quite intense and poignant. I am already half in love with the character of William Bellman and appreciate his uncles conscientious consideration of the situations and ideas put before her. I also like the character of Dora, sad and bitter though she may be; her love for her son is undeniable.
I am looking forward to hiding away with this book once more…after my baby girl goes to bed. 😉
2/9/2014 – I have entered the part of the book where the title comes into play. I find myself fascinated with Bellman’s eye for color, specifically for black. Setterfield’s manner of describing how immersed in all shades of black Bellman has become that he has begun to view the colors of the world oddly – the azure sky of a summer day he now considers to be vulgar, the green grass so bright as to be improper. It’s a fabulous reversal of his previous position, starting out at Bellman Mill where he worked so hard to make sure that they would produce the more vibrant and sanguine  crimson fabric.
The attention to detail and knowledge of profession is staggering to me., truthfully. I am constantly impressed with the level of research and integration of information in Setterfield’s work. It is a level that I, as a writer, aspire to. 🙂

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follette

I am so very excited! This July, Starz Movie Channel will be premiering their eight-art miniseries based upon Ken Follette’s novel The Pillars of the Earth.

The Pillars of the Earth Trailer

Amidst my excitement, I then and there decided that I must read this book before July. My mom-in-law has read both of Follette’s books and really enjoyed them so I am encouraged. 🙂 I have read the first three chapters so far and am quite enjoying it. I adore period literature set in any era of medieval England! YAY for new adventures!!