Saturday, July 7, 2012

Another Faust

by Daniel & Dina Nayeri

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story: Five teenagers sell their souls to the devil in exchange for wealth, beauty, fame, knowledge, or power. Then they descend upon New York high society and the elite school of Marlowe and wreak havoc.

Thoughts: This reminded me slightly of Jonathan Stroud's Bartimeus Trilogy, with characters who you kind of like for some reason slowly descending into darkness. And you can see the choices they make, and how close they might be to going a different way. Now, personally, I love this sort of stuff. It is often so much more intriguing than the books in which the protagonist finds it natural to be good, or than the books where the protagonist is bad, but it presents this as a good thing for some reason (or at least an attractive thing). And I find that most books actually do fall into one of these categories. For this reason, the Bartimeus Trilogy is one of my favourite sets of books ever, and Nathaniel one of my favourite fictional characters.

Unfortunately, I can't go into this train of thought much more, due to spoilers. How this book and the Stroud books end have definite impact on my views of the books as a whole. So see the bottom of this post for  further--but very spoiler-y--discussion on this.

In general, I think this was not quite as tightly written as Bartimeus, and the magic wasn't quite as fascinating, and it wasn't half as funny. But I don't want to give too bad an impression on it, as it was definitely still worth reading, for me at least. It was completely absorbing and quite tense, with unique and non-American characters, and some interesting side bits exploring people throughout history who'd made the same choices these kids had.

NOW SOME HUGE MASSIVE SPOILERS. Don't read this if you EVER want to read this book OR Bartimeus.


So my favourite character in this book was Valentin. He was one of the only ones who was not obviously going to stay bad (like Victoria) or obviously going to stay good (like Christian or BicĂ©). (Bella was also like that, but I didn't find her quite as interesting for some reason.) But I think the fact that he did not repent, unlike Nathaniel, somewhat lessened  my enjoyment. Also, the way Stroud wrote Nathaniel's repentance was so brilliant. I cried. And I don't cry very often. And I think even if Valentin did repent in this book, it might not have been satisfying. Goodness can be hard to write, and very few fantasy writers get both Good and Evil to be properly represented. I think Lewis and Tolkien are the obvious examples of those who can, but I think Stroud could be properly added to their number, albeit as a lesser member than the Greats of Lewis & Tolkien. However, the Nayeris didn't quite get it right. Not that it was bad, I just wanted it to be a bit more glorious.

However, they did leave Valentin's ultimate fate in question. So I can always imagine that someday he has a repentance as wonderful as Nathaniel's.

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