Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sweet Literary Treat: Harris' Lollipop Shoes

Harris, Joanne. The Lollipop Shoes. Transworld, 2010.

I think this link is right. Apparently the name of the book I'm about to review is different in the US and UK, ironic because I--an American--picked it our of a secondhand bin solely because of the title and stunning cover image of the British version. Amusing.

The Lollipop Shoes is a novel of nebulous genre: part romance, part dark magic, and part character study. Its British title derives from the bright red shoes worn by the protagonist, a woman of many borrowed identities, who goes by the name "Zozie" for the greatest part of the novel.

Zozie is an expert at using bank receipts and other paraphernalia to steal identities, usually of the deceased. With a few magic symbols and quietly uttered words of power, she is usually able to avoid detection and build lives for herself out of nothing. When she stumbles across young Yanne Charbonneau, a single mother who works in a Parisian chocolaterie, she pauses in her forgery and begins a new plan of attack: more than anything, she desires Yanne's life.

Yanne, of course, has secrets of her own to hide, including the identity of her younger child's father. Struggling to manage a chocolaterie with two young children, she is swept up in Zozie's unexpected enthusiasm, and soon finds herself somewhat at Zozie's mercy. The bulk of the book is an intertwining of stories of seduction, not (usually) in the sexual sense, but in the realms of trust and acceptance. The chocolaterie changes from a small struggling shop into a home of romance and community, and Zozie seduced Yanne's eldest, Anouk, with magic and pretty trinkets. The chocolaterie becomes beautiful, and welcoming, but Harris manages to retain an underlying sense of tension throughout, reminding us at every turn that the happiness she describes is forced, and that actions have consequences.

I didn't expect to find this book as interesting as I did, nor as serious, but I enjoyed it. The dark undercurrents of suspense occasionally wander a bit too heavily into the deus ex machina allowed by the presence of magic in the book, but the plot is heavily dependent on this conceit, and the novel would not, unfortunately, stand on its own without it. However, the story is interesting and the characters well-scripted, and lovers of chocolate, magic, and Paris should certainly give it a read.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

The Nine Lives of Ender Wiggins: Card's Franchise Expands

Card, Orson Scott. Ender in Exile. London: Orbit, 2009.

As if his two quartets were not enough (or perhaps he is trying to transform his saga into the Eliot-esque four quartets), Orson Scott Card has written a ninth story, this one a prequel to Xenophobia that depicts Andrew ("Ender") Wiggins' life immediately after the end of the war portrayed in Ender's Game. It's been several years since I read the Ender quartet (and then the Bean quartet), but this novel fleshes out the story excellently, offering a glimpse into Ender's post-war loneliness and his early adventures in space travel.

As plots go, Ender in Exile is a little slower than Ender's Game, and perhaps rightly so, for what sequel could really live up to the novelty and excitement of Card's seminal work? The characters, too, are a bit less compelling in Exile, but many of the new characters are caricatures of manipulation and greed, and the characters from the rest of the canon lack a certain mystery: the already knows where Ender will find himself at the end of his travels and what will become of Peter (and also what Peter will become). Card himself notes that there are some inconsistencies between Exile and other books in his canon, but these bothered me very little. On the other hand, Ender in Exile manages to tie up some of the loose plot elements from its prequels, particularly those in the Bean series. As a volume that fleshes out the details and answers some of the questions left at the end of Shadow of the Giant, this volume is excellent, and watching it develop was a little like catching up with old friends. However, as a standalone book, Ender in Exile is weaker than many of Card's other volumes: it does, in a way, seem to rest on Card's laurels and on those comfortable associations its readers might have with beloved characters from the early volumes. Still, there is much to like about the Card's newest installment of several years in the life of Ender Wiggins, and if it is not the most compelling volume of the sequence, it is simply written and a provides a pleasant return to Card's imaginative future.