Thursday, April 16, 2015

Book Review: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman

Happy Thursday :)

As I happened to finish a few books this week (which felt awesome!), it's about time I reviewed at least one of them. So here we go:

I really, really, wanted to love The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman. It's all the Gothic high melodrama and fairytale eeriness that I love. And yet, it was too filmy and insubstantial to leave much of an impression.
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In The Glass Casket, Rowan Rose keeps busy by translating ancient texts along with her scholarly father. They live in Nag's End (which is a village on the edge of nowhere-exactly what it sounds like), surrounded by "superstitious" villagers with layered traditions. Though her mother died when she was young, Rowan has a good relationship with her father and a strong friendship with fellow villager, Tom. However, everything changes when the kings' men come to town and are horribly killed, and Rowan's mysterious cousin, Fiona shows up in their wake. The Elders warn of hungry wolves, but Rowan begins to suspect that it is something, much, much darker, and not easily explained away by logic and science.

So, it's basically the child of The Village, The Brothers Grimm, and Hot Topic.

What I liked/What worked:

1. Templeman's mastery of tone and mood was great from the get-go. There was a timelessness to her atmosphere and descriptions which reminded me of The Village (in a good way)

2. The merging of Snow White, Snow White and Rose Red, and Little Red Riding Hood (with just a touch of The Demon Bridegroom legend). This was cleverly done, and it worked well with her story.

3. Templeman's prose and use of description (see #1) were lovely, and I could easily visualize the characters and action.

4. There is a guy named Jude. I really think we should revive that name. It has a sort of Clint Eastwood character swagger and charm.

5. Rowan was a scholar. She triumphs through loyalty, love, and knowledge. I liked that she had an inquiring mind, yet she didn't accept either her father's logical, scholarly beliefs, or those of the villagers, without question.

What I didn't like/What didn't work:

1. Uneven use of language. This is a pet peeve of mine, and there are so many books that do this, YA and Adult alike. Using modern slang terms like "Okay," when you are distinctly going for a medieval meets Victorian vibe is jarring and it snaps me out of the story. This is almost more of an editorial complaint-I know I've made that mistake myself, it's really easy to do! But that's why you want test readers.

2. The characters were flat (like in most fairytales), and we were just supposed to accept their insta-loves and their dramatic changes of heart. For example, Rowan starts out with a good relationship with her dad, whom she loves dearly. Later in the book, after all of the killings and danger, he decides she needs to be married off for her safety. Naturally, she is angry. However, she then decides that she hates him completely, even though he is trying to (misguidedly) protect her.* She has every right to be angry, but to utterly loathe the one person who has really loved you and guided you? That just didn't strike me as realistic. And it's only one example. There was also the creepy relationship of Fiona and her stepdad,** and her good relationship with her stepmother. Both of these were just dropped into the narrative, instead of developed through character.

3. There was too much going on, and not enough plot exploration. It felt like huge chunks of the story were missing (character development, plot development, worldbuilding, etc . . .). We were given some backstory on the types of witches in the world, but this didn't have much to do with the story until the end. We know city people are smart and logical, and that Nag's End is full of "backwards" old-fashioned types. We know there is a whole mythology and culture, but it is never really explored. You were given types and cues so you could fill in these blanks, with nothing to hold them up.***

4. The first two thirds of the book were basically a set up for the stronger last third. I felt like Templeman hit her stride toward the rising action, and that the plot became more cohesive. It was frustrating.

5. The world. This is related to all of the above. I felt like Templeman had a really fascinating world in her head, but it didn't quite translate to the page. It was like looking at beautiful pictures with no continuity, as if Hot Topic did a fairytale-themed Vogue section.

Overall: 2.5 stars for the book, but 4 stars for the idea.

For a similar feeling book that turns an old story upside down, try My Swordhand is Singing. It's creepy, yet poignant, and beautifully written.

Footnotes:

* This phenomenon seems to be everywhere in YA books. Just because young people are more emotionally volatile doesn't mean they're all Gollum/Smeagol crazy.
** Don't get me wrong, I didn't really want to know more about that creep, but I just thought it was one more random infodump, more than character development.
*** I am a worldbuilding fiend. The richer and more detailed the world, the better. I had very similar problems with The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which I disliked for many of the same reasons.