Sunday 24 July 2022

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin


Sadie and Sam first meet as youngsters in a hospital gaming room. She is visiting her sister; he is recovering from a devastating car accident. They bond over their love of video games, but a misunderstanding leads to them falling out with a resolve to never see each other again. 

Years later, Sam spots Sadie across a busy train station, and their connection is instant. From then on, they're inseparable (well, apart from all the times they fall out again). Together they begin to write games - not violent shooting games, but ones which give the player the escape from the real world that they'd both needed when younger. Their first game is a runaway success. But after that Sadie and Sam need to face the real world, which is never as fulfilling as a good game in which one may fail innumerable times but it's always possible to start over.

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a story of love, friendship, possibilities, misunderstandings, and, of course, creating games. I found it enthralling. Their relationship echoes a game. The periods when they don't talk to each other been the equivalent of a game-character's death. Their getting back together, the 'return to last saved level' and recommencement of the game. In games, though, it's possible to press restart an infinite number of times; life isn't so convenient. 

It's an intimate and nuanced depiction of a long-term friendship - one where the friends are as close and inseparable as lovers. The characters are fully developed, flesh and blood people, faults and all. Their arguments and misunderstandings explored from both sides. 

I'm not a committed gamer, though I'm fond of Lara Croft and some of the Lego games, and it took this book to show me that games are really in essence another form of story-telling - a small child is lost at sea and must find its way home, an older child is in hospital undergoing treatment but at the same time slips into a fantasy world where there are different obstacles to overcome - and stories are ways of making sense of life.

Thursday 14 July 2022

The White Hare by Jane Johnson

 In a valley in the far west of Cornwall lies an old house, once grand and imposing, now neglected for many years. Here, in 1954 Magda, her daughter Mila, and granddaughter Janey arrive, running away from their troubled London lives.

The valley too has a mysterious past. Locals tell legends of war, and rivers running with blood, and of the mysterious disappearance of the pre-war owners, but also of a spirit, often seen in the form of a white hare, which protects those considered its own.

This, the first novel I've read by Jane Johnson, is an atmospheric tale of two women looking for new beginnings in an old house, woven through with just a hint of magic. The valley is immediately recognised (by the reader at least) as somewhere 'other'; a place where old traditions hold sway, from herbal lore to a sort of Earth Mother worship. Magda, an out and out 'townie', doesn't appear to feel anything strange, but Mila, raised in the country by her grandmother, senses foreboding in the air, especially when 5 year old Janey begins to behave strangely as if influenced by her surroundings. The three also respond in different ways to Jack, the stranger found in their barn - Magda treats as she might any other man, as someone to be of use to her; Mila approaches him with caution, while Janey immediately and enthusiastically 'adopts' him as a father figure.

I really liked the characters here, the change in the relationship between mother and daughter, and the gradual peeling back of layers to reveal their past lives. Here they can at last find a way to communicate with each other, maybe not quite as mother and daughter, but at least woman to woman.

Thursday 7 July 2022

For the Throne by Hannah Whitten


"Red and the Wolf have finally contained the threat of the Five Kings, but at a steep cost. Red's beloved sister - Neve, the First Daughter - is lost in the Shadowlands. But Neve has an ally, even if it's one she'd rather never speak to again - the rogue king Solmir. Together they must journey across a dangerous landscape to find the mysterious Heart Tree - and finally claim the gods' dark, twisted powers for themselves."

For the Throne continues (and concludes) the story of twin sisters, Red and Neve, both in different ways locked into inescapable destinies. Red is now happily settled in the Wilderwood with her Wolf, but Neve is trapped  in the upside down, shadowy monochrome world of the Shadowlands. Neve must journey through this horrific landscape to find the enigmatic Heart Tree, which might somehow, with luck, and a huge dose of sisterly love, show her the way to return to the world above. On the way there are monsters and gods to contend with, and no one to help Neve - unless she can be persuaded to place her trust in her enemy Solmir.

Most of the story takes places in the creepy world of the Shadowlands, following Neve and Solmir - and what a scary, disturbing world it is! Fortunately there are brief respites, and flashes of colour, as Red works from her side of the barrier to reach Neve. 

There is perhaps a lot of trudging along through the Shadowlands' wastes, but at the same time this gives Neve time to reflect on some of her earlier decisions, and on Solmir's character and intentions - for the first,  acknowledging that they may not have been as right as she believed, for the latter - well - that he may not be as out and out evil as she'd assumed. In both regards, Neve has a lot of personal growing to do.

All in all a gripping mix of magic, horror, and sisterly love.

I haven't read what might be considered the first half of this duology - For the Wolf which follows Red's story - but enough references are made to the events in it to fill in the background while still leaving the reader wanting to know more.