"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} path of beasts

Sean expressed surprise that I was reviewing the final installment in a series, that is how infrequent I manage this.

pathofbeasts coverPath of Beasts (Book 3 of the Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

Delacorte Press, 2012

hardcover 377 pages

The city of Jewel is in peril once again, as it is held captive by the frightful Fugleman, his band of Blessed Guardians, and an army of merciless mercenaries. There’s no doubt that Goldie and Toadspit want to get their city back, but how can a small group of children fight against such overwhelming forces of evil? And how, as Goldie is determined, can they avoid bloodshed in a war that will set thieves against soldiers, and trickery and deception against a mighty cannon that shoots cannonballs bent on destruction? ~publisher’s copy.

I adore Museum of Thieves and it really is a must for middle graders. It stands alone rather nicely, but then Tanner is so enjoyable the second book is all too tempting. And City of Lies is an adventure of its own imagination and preoccupations, not the typical bridge. Path of Beasts draw both books to a close, and in ways unexpected.

One of the difficulties Goldie must face in the first novel is how, for the sake of “safety”, the adult population of Jewel has given most all of their self-will over to the guidance of The Protector and the Blessed Guardians. Over the course of time, generations have been crippled by this “utopic” culture. The citizenry are a cowed populace, terrified of any hint of wildness. The parental figures, who are doing this out of love, right; not just (ir)rational fear?, have not fared well in the eyes of the reader.  Alongside Goldie and company, the reader would perceive them to be mindless and inept. Not so in Path of Beasts—with some of the parents, at least. Those who are determined to fight back, in sometimes brash but also very quiet subversive ways.

“If His Honor had said such terrible words to her six months ago, Blessed Guardian Hope would have cowered before him and begged for mercy. But her time in Spoke had changed her.” (181)

Tanner even attends to Blessed Guardian Hope’s progression over the course of the trilogy, moving the simpering figure to one with her own mind and a voice to go with it–to an extent. Hope’s self-discovery is a consequence of the adventures in service to the Fugleman. And hers is one example of how a person can choose to abide their oppressors or rebel against them. Costs are measured, are weighted. And in the end we come to a central theme to Path of Beasts: “Hold to your true self ” (283). And allow it of someone else while you’re at it.

pathofbeasts

We remember that Goldie left the Big Lie (in Book 2) with a passenger. While Bonnie had mastered Princess Frisia’s bow and Toadspit was now a gifted swordsman, Goldie had another person residing inside her—a bloodthirsty one. The military strategy Frisia offers is reason enough to listen to her, but Goldie is not keen to take a life. Her tools are trickery and deception, and truly these are the instruments best suited to retaking the city. Frisia takes over at moments and Goldie fears madness. Tanner writes with the smoothest of transitions in and out of Frisia’s consciousness. She also moves Goldie so close to her boundaries we fear she may be overcome. We are certainly curious how Tanner is going to relieve her heroine.

The publisher’s copy mentions a lone walk of Goldie’s and Toadspit in a duel to the death. This comes late in the book and each protagonist’s challenge is a culmination of all they’d been working toward. Toadspit aka Cautionary is all his names imply when we first meet him and he is downright charming by book 3. Goldie (and the reader) are reminded that for all the risks and all the terrible things she’s endured, she made the right decision.

“They were kind, in a rough sort of way. And after a while, what they did began to seem normal. They gave me another name and I forgot who I was. Kindness can do that to you, quicker than cruelty. (226)”

These are the words of a child turned Slaver. You see the sort of challenges Tanner is unafraid to present to her reader: that kindness could make a person become/do evil things? This makes sense as we, with Pounce, wonder how some of the parents do not fight for their children—sense punctuated by Goldie’s father’s “brave” act. Path of Beasts interrogates self-preservation as well as how are unnatural notions/ways normalized to the detriment of self and/or other.

pathofbeasts brizzle_colourTanner’s imagination, the action and the adventures, the villains and the heroes, all of it is highly entertaining. I tend to go on about the issues that create much of the conflicts because they are so unusual and so incredibly relevant to the audience. Tanner’s children are clever and capable, they are creative and exercise self-control, they have fears, but they have incredible courage—born of a willingness to risk themselves (let alone their discomfort over uncertainties) for someone they love. Someone needs to remind children of this–and their parents.

my review of Museum of Thieves and of City of Lies.

{cover illus. by Jon Foster; interior illus. (2 seen above) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series

city of lies

City of Lies (Book 2: The Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

w/ Illustrations (inside) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2011

Hardcover, 278 pages. Juvenile Fiction

12-year-old Goldie, impulsive and bold, relies on her skills as a liar and a thief to try to rescue her captured friends from the child-stealers running rampant in the City of Spoke.~Publisher’s Summary.

Goldie isn’t the only accomplished Liar and Thief to return in this sequel to Museum of Thieves. We get to experience a whole City of Liars. Shoot, even the City is a Liar. I adore the author of this children’s book series, I really do.

Lian Tanner’s sequel to the brilliant Museum of Thieves is among the better of Book Twos that I have read. In City of Lies Tanner sets us right back down into the City of Jewel and Goldie’s life. It is only a short while after the ending of Museum of Thieves and everyone is still reeling from the effects of Book One. Tanner reminds the reader a bit of the first, but not a great deal. A few interspersed notes by the 3rd person narrator and we are off on this new adventure.  There is a diverting cleverness in bringing the Reader into this new twist swiftly and with such immersion—Tanner needs the Reader to be present in the now of the book. And besides, you’ve read the first book. You have, haven’t you? Because you really should.

The shine of the first story’s victory has taken some tarnish. One, Goldie is unwilling to become the Fifth Keeper of the Museum of Dunt as she is meant to be. Two, Jewel’s parents are still adjusting to having independent children and the absence of the Blessed Guardians. Yes, the change is a good thing, but it is so different from how they were raised. The indoctrinations are not easily shrugged off and when accidents begin to occur a murmuring begins. Three, the Fugleman has returned—and is “a changed man.”

Goldie claims her reason for refusing the appointment as Fifth Keeper is that her parents are sick. And they are. Their time as prisoners of the House of Repentance was traumatic. The parents are also rather clinging (3). Theirs is a chain of a different sort than the first book’s. But they aren’t the only ones holding Goldie back. While their worry is infectious, Goldie herself is a problem—specifically that voice that so infamously led her to triumph in Museum of Thieves.

Goldie has come to believe that the voice only brings her trouble; which isn’t a lie. In part, Goldie longs for a normal childhood, a boring one. This inevitably wars with her more adventurous and independent side that has a daring job to do using her unusual and oft socially unacceptable skill-set. She decides to ignore the voice while undertaking her search for Toadspit and Bonnie in the foreign City of Spoke. In addition to sorting out who she should and will be and whether the voice is worth listening to, Goldie must also navigate a strange city amidst their Festival of Lies where everything is turned inside out and upside down. How does one tell a lie in order to find the truth, and how does one find the already hidden when everything is to be masked?

In the kind of imaginative turn that I adore with Frances Hardinge’s stories, Lian Tanner creates this marvelous Festival of Lies. Everyone must speak in lies and the City itself participates by telling a few Big Lies to the lucky few. Yes, City of Lies maintains the idea that magical (and metaphoric) possibility exists not only within a person or creature, but within Place as well. Beside the focus of a lie-celebrating City of Spoke, the novel returns us to the strange Museum of Dunt occasionally, a Place that has revealed its own consciousness in Museum of Thieves. As in the first book, the state of unrest is linked to the state of the City and the children—Goldie and Toadspit in particular. The Places externalize anxiety and create a fun sort of tension in the novels. In City of Thieves a terrifying beast in on the loose and on the hunt in the Museum, in the City of Jewel, and in the City of Spoke. There are all sorts of dangers and only the daring need apply.

I read an article recently about leading women in Romantic Comedies and it remarked upon how the flaws the writers must give them are, in actuality, trite. She can’t not be beautiful, so let’s make her a klutz. I don’t think Romantic Comedies have cornered the market on this kind of characterization. If not negligibly flawed, many an Adventure Heroine is formulaic enough to undermine (or even nullify) the conflict. Tension is muted because the flaw is hardly considerable or easily overcome by the perfections. Goldie’s flaws create serious conflict, and ones that are identifiable enough within the Reader that adrenaline and worry surface.

Goldie’s abilities put her at odds with her society. The risks in using her beliefs and skills to create change are significant. Entering the second book, we know that those risks have some reward and consequence, but we feel victorious and that Goldie is capable. She might fumble a bit, but she had come into herself in book one, had she not? But in City of Lies, Tanner creates a separation for the character and Reader. Goldie falters and is somewhat immobilized by responsibilities, distrust of herself, and –let’s face it—weariness. Enter Goldie No One, a reinvention of a self in order to free a self. It is the masked ball, the move to a new city, an opportunity to overcome the limitations pressed upon her by circumstance and expectation—it is a Festival of Lies. Goldie is back to a different kind of beginning, and the conflict of being able to trust who she is still becoming. Should she trust that voice in the back of her head?

Tanner has created a complex character ever in the state of changing, of becoming more. Goldie No One is an aspect this protagonist must address; throwing her into a Festival of Lies is a brilliant move. She has to find her friends, (while without knowing it) find herself, and she has to discern what is mere diversion and what is true and real. Who and what are sincere? Do you create your destiny or do you run blindly along with it—or is there a state in between? How do you interpret the signs?

Who might a young girl become when unencumbered, or, even, encumbered by someone else? Inhabiting the dreams, the adventures of others is a nice move in an Adventure story rife with intrigues. And I enjoy the idea that a person is a place; a museum, a collection of historical fact and figures; that the character might not only inhabit another’s history/adventure, but that they might in turn inhabit the character—whether the character be an actual building or city, or a different plane, or a person or creature. The present can be affected by the past, as well as the lies, in positive and negative ways, tangibly or intangibly. [Those black/white messages of children’s early years become more gray–a lovely lovely shade of gray.]

Despite the disguises, the essence of who someone is appears to remain much the same. This can be infinitely reassuring, or a terrible prickling up the spine. The Lies can be fun, but they can be quite deadly. Little is as it seems, and City of Lies is rife with uncertainty.

City of Lies is everything I want to see as a Book 2 of 3. It bridges to a third and final book with the promise of a great denouement. It also holds an arch of its own: introducing great new characters, providing a mystery to solve, and creating, developing, and gifting a sense of resolution. It doesn’t really stand alone, nor does it apologize for the fact. I am satisfied by good story, by great writing, and I wait longingly for the third book.

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If you like Frances Hardinge or Adrienne Kress, you will like Ms. Tanner’s The Keepers books (and vice versa). For boys and girls alike; ages 9 & up (likely to 12/13); lovers of Utopia/Dystopia fiction and/or of fantasy; and especially for those tired of romances in every book they read.

My review of Museum of Thieves.

Ms. Tanner’s website. Sebastian Ciaffaglione’s blog.