the elegance of the hedgehog

It seems to me that in recent months the hedgehog has become the hipster pet of choice. I’ve seen this picture on almost every website I frequently visit:

baby hedgehog

I’ll admit that a baby hedgehog is fairly cute. I’m not sure how much I’d thought of hedgehogs until recently with their rise as popular pets and of course this book entering my world –

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I can admit, without reservation, and despite the year not having fully drawn to a close, that this is my favourite book of 2011. According to goodreads.com I’ve read about 51 books so far this year, or 13,750 pages. A lot of them were read for classes but since May they’ve all been for pleasure or curiosity. This one drew my attention out of sheer curiosity.

I’ll admit that I am a cover judger. That’s all a book really has to recommend itself if you are not familiar with the author. While I understand the lesson of the adage I do think that choosing books based upon their covers (and subsequently the summary either on the dust jacket or back) are perfectly acceptable ways to choose books. Continue reading “the elegance of the hedgehog”

the tale of a spear wielder

The Spearwielder's Tale by R.A. Salvatore

(In this review I explain some major plot points… so if you don’t want to be spoiled turn away, otherwise proceed with caution, one does not merely walk into a review of a fantasy novel.)

 

The day I started this book I tweeted

the tweeter machine

Please excuse that glaring grammar/spelling mistake. But I was right. It was uniquely enjoyable. It’s been quite some time since I’ve read some straight fantasy with giants and elves and leprechauns and all of that. Fantasy, as a genre, was heavily influential in my early years of reading. We’ve already talked about the influence C.S. Lewis was on me as a reader. And I went through The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in high school around the time the movies were coming out. And of course the Harry Potter series. But I consider that a little more on the magical realism side. This Spearwielder’s Tale (which I manage to spell incorrectly every time) was straight fantasy. One of those ripped from the real world into Faerie types of things.

I liked some of the “reveals” that resulted from the main character, Gary, being taken into Faerie. In the first book he’s taken there as a disillusioned recent college grad merely because he fits the specific size of a legendary suit of armor. A scheming leprechaun and an elf on his life quest convince Gary that he has to tag along and the land of Faerie is very much real. Lovers of Tolkien will enjoy that throughout the first book Mickey McMickey (the leprechaun) reads Gary’s copy of The Hobbit, even translating it into his own language. (This artifact given back to him at the end of the first book helps him realize that he hasn’t actually gone crazy).

The Elf (Kelsey), Mickey McMickey, and Gary add a dwarf and a giant to their gang (somewhat begrudgingly) and best not only a conniving witch bent on interrupting their quest but also stand down a very tricky dragon (who can walk around in human form). And they do it all by walking everywhere. No horses. Gary ends up banishing the witch to her castle for 100 years and accidentally freeing the dragon from his castle (though he’d been banished by the elf defeating him in swordplay). This upsets the balance of power in Faerie and creates the plot for the second book.

Five years later in the real world, and only a couple of weeks in Faerie, Gary is brought back to replace a dagger he accidently stole from the dragon. Again Mickey McMickey has an ulterior motive. His pot of gold is situated in the dragon’s pile of wealth, too, and he needs it back.

The witch is still banished, but she convinces Gary to let her out early. He agrees to reduce her banishment from 100 years to 3 months, mainly so she’ll stay out of their hair while they try to handle the dragon. And she does. Also some gnomes show up in this book and they build crazy contraptions. The situation progressively gets worse and worse and Gary ends up having to kill the dragon (in dragon form) with the aid of the spear (which can talk to him) and a contraption built by the dwarf and gnome. I don’t know if I skipped over the specifics somehow but I don’t think how they did it was ever actually explained. Oh yeah, and there are a ton of horses in this one with some kind of fear inducing bells attached to them.

In the second book Salvatore throws out his nod to Fleetwood Mac implying that members of the band had crossed over into Faerie when Gary starts singing one of their songs and Mickey makes a comment about that bard knowing of what he sings. Gary is overwhelmingly excited by the possibility that his favorite author and members of his favorite band have made their way into Faerie for some reason or another. (Mickey had earlier confirmed that Tolkien had to have seen a dragon in real life because he described them perfectly, but he was a little off on the trolls).

The third book was my least favorite. But there were some slightly interesting things that happened. Gary, recently married and having lost his father is desperate to get back into Faerie. So he traipses all over England and Scotland in an effort to find another passage into Faerie. His wife sort of believes the stories he’s told her about his adventures in Faerie but is annoyed all the same at Gary’s strange persistence. Mickey finally relents and allows Gary and his wife to come back to Faerie, mainly because they are in such dire straits. All of Faerie is at war… the men vs. the magical creatures (elves, dwarves, and gnomes). So Gary jumps in and starts his work. The witch is still banished in her castle for this book, but her machinations have crept out. Apparently sometime during his reign the witch had replaced the King with some very strange mountain creature called the Wild Hairy Haggis.

Gary, Kelsey, Mickey, Gary’s wife, and the prince go on a quest to find the real king as the rest of Faerie squares off for war lead by the impostor king. It all ends with Gary fighting a demon in the witch’s castle. And more than a few men die. So thanks to Gary, Kelsey, and Mickey Faerie is set to experience a long time of peace. The king offers to set Gary up as a Duke to watch over a section of his kingdom and be given some reward for all his efforts in Faerie and though Gary and his wife seriously consider it they decide to go back to the real world.

Mickey’s final piece of advice to Gary is that Faerie will always be in his mind. On the plane from England back to the States Gary realizes that he can’t tell people about Faerie an expect to be taken seriously… he’d just end up in some tabloid. He comes to the conclusion that he’ll write a novel and like Tolkien did for him maybe his story will prepare some future hero for the realities of Faerie.

 

I did enjoy the books, though I’ll admit I skipped over a lot of the fighting scenes. They’re just not really my thing. And I was completely annoyed by the overuse of the word “maw”. I realize that it’s sort of a catch-22 to use a thesaurus in this case. Because these are the kinds of options you’re given:

thesaurus for maw

So yeah, not very enticing options. But goodness I was so over reading the word “maw” that when I recently saw it in another book I almost reflexively chucked it across the room.

I’d say that if you enjoy fantasy and some sillier moments in fiction than this set of novels would be great for you to peruse. And Salvatore is apparently a prolific fantasy/sci-fi writer. So, if that’s your thing I’m sure you’ll find something that tickles your fancy.

These were books 2-4 in my last 15 of 2011 if you’re keeping track.