Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Came from the Stars

A distant planet, nearly overcome by evil forces, sends the best of its existence, forged into a chain, across the universe to Plymouth, Massachusetts, into the lunchbox of Tommy Pepper. Tommy and his family grieve for his dead mother, and resist the encroaching real estate development that threatens their ramshackle home. How can he deal with his own problems, and still protect this treasure from the dreadful foes who want it?

The best of fantasy/sci-fi for the chapter book crowd, written by Gary D Schmidt. What Came from the Stars won a Newbery Honor and was a National Book Award finalist, and for good reason. The storyline of high fantasy manages to pull off the other-world setting without getting too long-winded or high-vocabulary, despite the necessity of making up a lot of words. In contrast, Tommy's everyday world of school and bus, overladen with the pall of grief that renders his sister mute and his family emotionally paralyzed, is strikingly ordinary, despite the specifics of the beach and a nasty real-estate developer. When these worlds collide, the O'Mondim (made of sand), Ouslim the Liar, and Ealgar (one day known as The Bold) must deal with Tommy and his family, his friends, and the faculty of William Bradford Elementary School. 

As if that weren't enough, Schmidt mixes compassion and humor into a story that is both complex and happily-ever-after. A tour de force. 

Home from the Sea

An Elemental Masters novel

Mari Prothero's father is the luckiest fisherman in their little Welsh village. When Mari learns that she must marry a Selch (magical seal-person) to maintain the luck, she uses her strength of mind and her latent mastery of water magic to strike a bargain more to her liking. Can her new allies from London, and from a previous Elemental Masters story, help her keep her family together?

I am a big fan of Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Masters series and Five Hundred Kingdoms series, and was excited to read Home from the Sea. I mostly enjoyed it, but not as much as I expected. 

Good things: I liked the Welsh setting and Mari Prothero. Welsh heritage is big at my house, and I found the milieu very enjoyable, from the village, the isolated cottage, to the Manor and environs. 

Starting now, huge spoiler alert:
Bad things: Ms. Lackey set me up for some great plot twists that never happened.

•First, what about all those dark magicky things with their eyes on her? (The constable doesn't count; he's merely annoying.) I thought the evil Mari Lwyd had some good potential, but alas, it was a non-starter.

•Second, the contract with the selches specifies one child goes with the selch parent and one stays with the human parent. Since Gethin snatched both children, Mari had a strong case for serious payback, especially after all the tit-for-tat business about dealing with magical folk. I was excited to see how that would play, but it never came up. This would have been a good time for Llyr to show up and wield some Oldest magic. 

•Third, with all the Selch cousins/kinfolk rallying around her in Selchland, where was Mari's mother & brother? Not so much as a nod? I was watching for some kind of reunion to warm the sea-chilled cockles of my heart, even though Mari no longer mourned her lost kin. But nothing. Another plot-strengthening device, wasted. 

•Fourth, Puck keeps hanging around, but won't interfere with his counterpart, Llyr. Kind of expected Llyr to make an appearance, even in passing (see Second), but no. 

I'm not sure how I feel about Nan and Sarah. My recollection of them is pretty dim, so I cannot rely on my previous reading of The Wizard of London to strengthen Home from the Sea. I find the girls less interesting, and don't feel their whole storyline did a whole lot to advance the plot, aside from tying it to the White Lodge thread of the series. Maybe if I remembered them more, it would help, but it's not my job to remember, it's Ms. Lackey's job to make the story stand on its own. 

In short, I almost loved it, but the disappointments are real.