2005; 329 pages. New Author? : No, but it’s been a while. Book 2 (out of 4) of “The Wicked Years” series. Genre : Revisionist Fairy Tale. Overall Rating : 7*/10.
The paying passengers won’t like it, but Oatsie Manglehand can’t just leave him lying there. The poor lad is unconscious, his clothes are shredded, and he’s bleeding to death from huge scratches all over his body.
There isn’t time for the Grasstrail Train to stop and bury the dying soul. But there is time to pick him up and just dump him on the doorstep of the nearby Cloister of Saint Glinda. It would take a miracle to save him, but at least the maunts there can facilitate things by praying him into the next world.
But the eldest of the maunts vaguely remember the young man, from his stay there many years ago. He was just a boy back then, and was in the company of a witch. A very special witch. Elphaba. There were rumors, never verified, that she was his mother. And he had a name, which one of the maunts remembers after much deliberation.
What’s To Like...
Son of a Witch is the sequel to Gregory Maguire’s best-seller, Wicked (reviewed here). Liir, a minor character (IIRC) in the first book, now takes center stage. For a while, the chapters bounce around between Liir in the present (a young man), flashbacks of his life immediately following Wicked, and a couple of maunts (“nuns”) investigating some mutilation killings, albeit with some understandable trepidation.
The characters are a pleasant mix of holdovers from the first book (mostly in the flashbacks) and new beasts, Beasts, and beings. The book is well-written, and is a vocabularian’s delight. The author offers some pithy insights on Religion, Politics, War, Ethics, Animal Rights, and Prophecy; and the interconnection of all of them.
For quite a while the pacing is poor and the storyline meanders aimlessly along. But if you stick it out until 62%-Kindle - which is when the flashbacks end and everything thereafter proceeds linearly forward –the action picks up and the storyline comes into focus. The ending is particularly strong.
There is a lot of R-Rated stuff: adult language, masturbation, gay sex, and “forced” straight sex. I suppose this is because Maguire is trying to tell a darker version of the Wizard of Oz tale, but frankly it felt awkward and unnecessary. OTOH, Wicked was equally “R”, and that was a smashing success, so maybe it’s just me.
For the most part, SoaW was a plodding and somewhat confusing read for me – partly due to the aforementioned pacing, partly due to the fact that it had no reference point (Book 1 has The Wizard of Oz), and partly due to a 6-year personal reading gap between Wicked and Son Of A Witch. There were characters to recall, and specialized “Ozzian” parlance (maunts, Quadlings, menaciers, animals/Animals, etc.) to fathom out again. A bare-bones backstory is inserted around 4%-Kindle, via one of the maunt’s musings, but things would’ve gone smoother with a glossary/appendix or two.
Kewlest New Word...
Wiftier (adj.) : Ditzier; Sillier; More Eccentric.
Others : Loggia (n.); Colloquy (n.); Epibolically (adv.); Fillip (n.); Stroppy (adj., a Britishism); Chilblained (adj.); Flitch (n.). I never did find an apt definition for ‘flitch’.
He’d left the unionist mauntery too young to absorb any of the tenets of faith that supported the cloistered way of life. From the distance of a skeptical adolescent, unionism seemed like a thicket of contradictions. Charity to all, but intolerance toward the heathen. Poverty ennobles, but the Bishops had to be richer than everyone else. The Unnamed God made the good world, imprisoning the rebellious human being within it, and taunting humankind with tinderbox sexuality that must be guarded against at all odds. (loc. 499)
“I can’t be in danger here. Look, what? Are the very elm leaves going to wreathe up by magic and smother me?”
“Something attacked you six weeks ago, and for a reason,” she reminded him.
“I had a flying broom. Of all things. No reason more than that.”
“You had the power to fly on it, too.”
“An ant has the power to wander aboard an eagle.” (loc. 3400)
Son of a Witch sells for $3.99 at Amazon. The other three books in the series are in the $4.99-8.00 price range. Gregory Maguire has another dozen or so books available for the Kindle, the majority of which have a “Fractured Fairy Tale” motif, in the $1.99-$8.99 range.
“The world is the womb now, and the Afterlife waits for one to be born into it.” (loc. 294)
At its core, Son of a Witch is a story about a small-yet-tenacious uprising against the Emperor, that started with Elphaba and is helped along by Liir. If you keep that in mind while reading the book, the plotline will seem a lot less disjointed.
If you read SoaW as a coming-of-age story about Liir, you’ll find it to be a slow, and oftentimes an aimless slog. Liir visits a prison (Southstairs), attends a bird conference, and peels a ton of potatoes in the Home Guard. Yawn.
It’s even worse if (as I did) you thought you'd be reading a “Looking for Nor” adventure story. You will be chasing a chimera, because Nor is nothing more than a literary MacGuffin here.
So it is not surprising that the book left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. Upon reflection, however, it dawned on me that I had approached it wrong. This is a series about a rebellion. Nor may or may not ever show up again.
7 Stars. The strength of Gregory Maguire’s writing is countered by the not-very-focused storytelling. The next book in the series, A Lion Among Men, is on my TBR shelf, and I will read it with a different expectation. Add 1 star if you read this book for the sedition, not for the seeking.