Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A legend passes on: Anne McCaffrey

My first awareness of Anne McCaffrey came through a fantasy and science fiction book club in about 1978. One of the featured books that could be ordered (in hardback no less – quite a treasure for a younger sister used to hand-me-downs) was The White Dragon. As you probably know,  this was just one of many books in the Dragonriders of Pern series, and after reading the story of the little dragon who could, that nobody thought would amount to anything but that proved his worth, this twelve-year-old was hooked.

I went back and read all the Pern novels that were available at the time and many of the ones that came out after. Again and again the stories of bravery, of unexpected strength from those who society shunned, spoke to my heart. And the magic! I wished for a dragon of my own to soar with through the skies, who would be my lifelong companion, and to live in a simple society where things were made by hand and the homes were cozy and comforting.

I read The Ship Who Sang and many of her other tales, each of them similar in message. Maybe it sounds corny or trite, but honestly, Anne McCaffrey helped this girl along during some awkward teenage years when it seemed nobody wanted her. Maybe, I thought to myself, there was something special about me, too. Some bit of magic overlooked, that would blossom someday, so that I could prove my worth and belong somewhere.

So thank you, Ms. McCaffrey, for giving me hope and helping me along a little farther down my own path. We never met, but know that part of the reason I write is because of you. Because you showed that not only can women write fantasy, but that women can write brilliant fantasy full of imagination, wonder, hope and deep meaning. You are one of my role-models and a source of inspiration for girls who aspire to become writers. Your life and your works live on. Thank you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Seeing double is a good thing with Twin Spirit

I don’t ordinarily review young adult novels because, with the recent glut of self-published books out there, the YA market has exploded and the quality has gone with it. However, Matthew Thompson has got a gem here with his debut novel, Twin Spirit.

Nine-year-old Rose is living a happy, middle-class life in 1960s England with her father and friends. The girls discover a book full of spooky old incantations and after her friends are gone for the night, Rose tries one that has dramatic effects – she discovers that her conjoined twin, Lily, may not be with her in body any longer, but her spirit is still firmly attached and has been with her the entire time, unseen and unheard.

Together they begin the search for their mother, who died at their birth, in the spirit land of Kiian. The afterlife is not nearly as safe as one would think, and a second death is entirely possible if you’re caught by the very dementor-like Govern.

Speaking of dementors, I found Twin Spirit to be something of Harry Potter meets The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, but with its own very rich world and set of characters. It’s almost too rich, as there is so much packed into this novel that as it neared the climax, I found  myself having to re-read parts to catch all the action and details. However, the main cast of characters is strong and distinct enough that I never got completely lost, and actually misted up a bit when one of them is killed near the end.

Thompson comes from a video game level designer background, and it works to his advantage in this tale full of twists, turns, puzzles, rescues, narrow escapes and overall exciting adventure. It could easily have been 25% longer, especially in the last quarter of the book which felt slightly rushed in my opinion, but that story compression does add to the sense of excitement and urgency.

Overall, Twin Spirit is well-told and will appeal to younger readers, especially adventurous girls from about 8 to 12.