Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Shadowland Has Shadows of Greatness
Chitra Lekha Banejee Divakaruni's Shadowland is the third book about young Anand and the magical conch. It's a utilitarian children's story about Anand, a boy who has adventures, pretends to grow up a little, and goes home. It was OK, but not great. The Conch Bearer series is an Indian based fantasy, so the exotic factor works for it, but the author repeats herself too much. Every other page there is a situation where the author or Anand points out the best thing to do, and then does the opposite. A little of this can build suspense -- if a scary monster is chasing you, or you are climbing a precipice, then you tend to look back or down even though you shouldn't. But Anand is constantly shown a good course of action and then doing the opposite with no sense of irony or even deja vu. The most egregious case came when the super-powerful conch reached out mentally to urge Anand to trust a scientist, and Anand instantly decides to run away from her for no apparent reason.
Anand was supposed to be a bit older (fifteen) now, but the author had no real idea how to handle that. She mentions his new age heavily a few times, and his female best friend has many new restrictions placed on her, but Anand is baffled by a strange intensity for his friendship with Nisha. I guess he has an excuse for being sexually clueless; he does live in a monastery with maybe two women on the mountain, counting his young friend, but he takes it to extremes. His voice doesn't seem older or more mature than in the earlier books. The conch runs around messing with people's memories again, which always irks me a bit but I have to accept as part of the game here.
I sure sound down on this book, don't I? It wasn't really all that bad, it just had the potential to be really good and didn't bother to execute. Only Anand seems to have motivations or interests, or rather only when he is around does anyone act. All the other characters only react to him instead of seeming true characters on their own. This makes for a more more passive seeming book than the plot and language indicates. So instead of being a solidly mediocre book, it's a mediocre book that could have been special. I'm always crankier with books or kids not living up to their potential, even if they do fulfill the written requirements. B-