Ariel

Ariel by Grace Tiffany. Fiction. Copyright 2005. ISBN 9780060753276

ariel

Story:
In Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Ariel is a magical spirit that lives on Prospero’s island, serving the magician and desiring only freedom. In Grace Tiffany’s Ariel, Ariel is a conniving liar who cares only for tricks and conquest, a manipulator of everyone and everything she comes across. What this means for the unfortunate souls who wash up on the shores of her island is uncertain at best.

Style and Plot:
To say Ariel is an adaptation of The Tempest isn’t quite accurate. Author Grace Tiffany uses the same characters and setting as the famous play, but many things are changed—Ariel is now female, motivations are switched around, origins are developed or expounded on— making the final product something very different from Shakespeare’s work.
Tiffany adds much to The Tempest, developing the geographical context and giving the events a timeline (Ariel was created in the 58th year), which gives the story some striking implications as it progresses. She also gives several characters more dimension, fleshing out their personalities and making what they do much more understandable and accessible than Shakespeare’s original text might allow.
However, the book reads as though the events are being described by a distant observer—apart from the occasional instance where the reader might be drawn in by a powerful emotion, it all feels a bit detached and is mildly interesting at best. Tiffany mixes historical events with Shakespeare’s fiction, which adds relevance to the plot, but it often comes off as clunky. Most of all, while the writing is technically good, it lacks energy. It’s hard to be pulled into the story when it feels like it’s just being passively told, with no real investment.

Characterization:
The titular character is the embodiment of flight and fancy, having been born of the imagination of a dying sailor. She doesn’t understand anything on a human level, is selfish, conniving, and power-hungry (what need has a spirit for conquest?). Nothing that she does can be expected to follow any semblance of logic, rationale, or sympathy. While this effectively gives her a two-dimensional personality, with no care for anything but herself, she’s still a curious character. As humans with a natural sense of empathy, we still find something intriguing about a person that just doesn’t care. Tiffany did a good job of pulling Ariel’s mindset off and letting it affect every little thing she does over the course of the novel.
Tiffany took as many liberties with the rest of the characters as she did with the storyline itself. Though we run into every named character that appears in The Tempest, most of them are changed, some to drastic proportions. Sycorax is Nordic, Prospero isn’t nearly as mystical, Miranda and Caliban have their own thing going on, and the party from Milan is not all it seems to be.
Because of these changes in who the characters fundamentally are, the results of the story are not what the reader might expect. If the ending is held to the standard of Shakespeare (a reasonable standard, considering that Ariel was written by a scholar of Shakespeare), it is far too neat and unsatisfying— but if the book is judged on its own merit, with the understanding that it should be seen as a work separate from The Tempest, then the ending can be read in a better light. It’s hardly dazzling either way, but most Shakespeare enthusiasts will be, at the least, interested in hearing Tiffany’s ideas.

Ariel expounds on the characters and setting of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but needs more vitality to make it worth remembering. 3 out of 5 stars.

Dragonswood

Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey. Copyright 2012. Young Adult Fantasy. ISBN 9780803735040

dragonswood

Story:

The peace between the Fey and humans on Wilde Island is cracking. When the witch hunter comes to Tess’s village, she and her two friends must leave their families and flee for their lives, or be drowned for possessing corrupted power. Tess finds aid in the hands of a young huntsman who watches over part of the mystical and mysterious Dragonswood, but can she trust him with her life—or her heart?

Style and Plot:

Dragonswood is written in the first-person, following a young lady named Tess, who is the daughter of an abusive blacksmith and possesses the gift of fire-sight—seeing visions in the fire. Now, normally writing from the first-person perspective gives the author the chance to show the reader the world through the eyes of a specific character, but in this case, author Janet Lee Carey breaks one of the most important rules of writing: show, don’t tell. Tess neither experiences nor sees the world; she explains it. This leads to very little description of surroundings or events, scant worldbuilding, and an overwhelming sense of everything happening in a void. It’s obvious that the story is supposed to be borrowing from Arthurian legend, but the how and why is much less obvious. Where, exactly, is Wilde Island? Is it part of Britain, or separate? How is it ruled? What does it look like? What’s the significance of mentioning King Arthur and Merlin when they don’t add anything to the story? The author has so many opportunities to go into vivid detail of, well, pretty much everything, but she passes them all up in favor of semi-suspenseful plot developments, or Tess’s long-winded and whiny rehashes of everything that’s already happened in the novel.

Because of reasons related to this, the novel reads very flat. There is little realistic emotion—even in the first few chapters, which contain arrests and a torture scene—and in a book where a large part of the plot focuses on a romance, this is a terrible thing. Tess doesn’t treat her friends any differently than she treats Garth, which is to say, she hardly treats anyone like anything at all. There are also several plot lines to follow throughout the novel, but they all seemed to be dropped without answer after a few chapters to make room for the next one, and then they’re all haphazardly “solved” during the climax of the book (the term “climax” is used loosely, the ending is no more dramatic than any of the rest of it). There is so little impact, the whole thing might never have happened at all. This leaves the book with a sense of being non-committal and unsatisfying, and leaves readers with a sense of having wasted their time.

Finally, Carey should invest some time in going back and relearning the elements of writing, as her writing is as choppy and flat as the plot, with strange dialogue and chapters ending in the middle of conversations.

Characterization:

Our main character has had a hard life. She’s the daughter of a blacksmith who beats her and her mother, which eventually leaves one of Tess’s ears permanently disfigured and deaf. This would be a realistic touch to her character, except that only the disfigurement is ever noticed by Tess: although she mentions her deafness, she never seems to have a problem hearing anything.

The abuse aspect is one of the big problems with the novel: Because of the blacksmith, Tess has learned not to trust men. That’s fine, it’s logical and realistic. Of course, this sets up her character to go on into an anti-husband spiel at the very beginning of the novel because, as Tess observes, almost every married woman in her village is beaten by her husband. This thus establishes Tess as a Strong, Capable Female Protagonist (with far too progressive ideals for the time).

Now, the somewhat questionable situation of almost every woman being beaten by her husband aside, a big deal is made of Tess not being “like other girls,” as if being like other girls (that is, wanting to care for a husband and children and keep house) is a bad thing. While the promotion of a strong attitude for women is commendable, is it really accomplishing anything if it tears down other, perfectly legitimate attitudes?

Furthermore, the abuse only seems to exist for two purposes: one, to make Tess’s life worse, and two, to make the reader truly understand how great of a man Garth is because he doesn’t strike Tess when she thinks he will. Tess is always cringing from Garth—which is a realistic reaction, that’s not the problem here—but just not hitting someone does not a good man make, and it’s insulting to people who’ve been through abuse themselves.

Tess’s friends, Meg and Poppy, are hardly better than Tess herself, but at least they each have a (singular) distinguishable personality trait—but nothing too original, of course, why stray from clichés if they work so well? Similarly, all of the antagonists feel like stock, so it’s hard to work up any actual feeling for the supposed atrocities they’re committing (another thing Carey neglected to expound on). Overall, a lot more time could have been spent on developing the characters, and it might have made up somewhat for the lacking plot—but there wasn’t, so it doesn’t.

Dragonswood promises so much, but fails to deliver on almost everything. 1 out of 5 stars.

 

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