Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Book Review - Sasha Soren's Random Magic

Random Magic by Sasha Soren
Published by: Beach Books, LLC
Publication Date: November 16, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition, 420 Pages
To Buy

The family solicitor has been called because Henry has been missing for three weeks. The usual suspects have been gathered and then a strange little girl with blond hair and a pinafore appears out of nowhere. She is, without a doubt, Alice, from the beloved children's classic. Alice explains that Henry is where Henry should be, where he went years ago when Alice herself was misplaced by Professor Random, a teacher at Henry's school. She then recounts the tale of how Henry saved the world by finding her. One night Henry was out of bed late and ended up hiding from the head mistress in Professor Random's classroom. Random himself shows up quite distraught because he had just popped into Alice in Wonderland to have tea with Alice and somehow he inadvertently lost her, because he foolishly used a first edition for his literary escapade. He pleads with Henry to find Alice because if she disappears forever the world will be destroyed because there is no book that has had a greater influence on children then Alice's book has. Henry gets handed an hourglass and a compass to find his way back, gets doused in fairy dust and ends up in the wrong book, without the compass to bring him back. But as Random sees it, perhaps he was supposed to be in Myths and Legends, not Wonderland.

Henry falls straight into the middle of a mob scene. At the center is Winnie a doodle witch who Henry kind of saves and then flees with. Lucky for Winnie Henry showed up and lucky for Henry Winnie seems to know her way around this bizarre world Henry has fallen into. After fleeing villagers with pitchforks and navigating the white forest, crossing a chasm barred by riddles and entering the block forest they ride the back of a whatwolf and spend some time with vampires straight out of a Charles Addams cartoon. From the castle of the De Morgue's to the home of the Muses, from submarines to Pirates, from floating cities to vicious chess matches to evil witches, they must brave the vast unknowns in the hope that by tea time they will find a little girl in a blue pinafore somewhere in this wilderness.

Henry, in a very Arthur Dent move tries to save the world by tea time in his pajamas. Of course to save the world he must first find Alice, who is missing from Wonderland. Those two sentences embody for me what is at work in this book... other books all mashed together to make something new... something that doesn't quite work for me. There's obviously Lewis Carroll, but there are so many different authors at play and homages that it's hard to find Sasha Soren's voice. From characters disappearing, like in Fforde's Eyre Affair, to pirates reminiscent of Walter Moers' Captain Blue Bear, to just out and out re-imaginings of scenes from Labyrinth to Alice in Wonderland to Harry Potter... I could just not get past this literary mash-up of randomness. I think I might have accepted the vast array of references if not for two glaring problems. The lack of plot and the lack of definition of place. This book is what the title implies, random. The overall arc is the tenuous thread of finding Alice, but there's just too much time spent going through these weird vignettes of bizarre folk and there overly clever banter peppered with literary allusions. I will say that sometimes the banter is well written, but it is overall so nonsensical that you don't care what they are saying and just wish they would get on with it.

But what bothered me most of all was the creation of this world. Alice in Wonderland works because Wonderland is such a very distinct world. There are laws and logic that Carroll created that govern the world, no matter how illogical it seems. There are no laws, there is no logic, and the world is so vastly different from one sector to the next that you can't envision them as part and parcel of a whole world. Plus Wonderland had a distinct time and place. It was a mirror image of the Victorian society that Carroll lived in. Here? I have no idea. What time period is this to take place in? At first I thought Victorian because of the initial set up and the general descriptions. But then there was a reference to a Bentley, which puts this square in the 1920s, at the earliest. But then other anachronisms would pop up, references to The Blair Witch Project, Disney Land, ships with motors, Martha Graham, Cirque du Soleil, The Beatles and their Yellow Submarine, Greenpeace, Bingo grannies, Douglas Adams and neon (yes I kept track). These would break into the world she was trying to create, like little seeps of other time periods, and while an author like Terry Pratchett can make this work, because it fits in the (disc)world he has created, it doesn't work here. There needs to be something fixed in this world to make it believable to some extent. Wonderland is believable, this world is not.

In the final analysis, this book is not suited to my tastes. With no structure and no driving force there was no reason, other than this post, to keep reading. Other people might enjoy the witty dialogue and the vignettes of weirdness, but I was just rankled by the Carroll rip offs. There is homage and there is rewriting. Sasha Soren has just re-purposed parts of Alice in Wonderland. Using lines of dialogue and scenes to make it all self referential. This makes it less her story and more just a bad parody. If these were eliminated I think the book would be more it's own creation. You can never do it better than Carroll so why try? Create a loving homage, switch it up, don't use the same material from rote. Do what Lynn Truss did in her short story, Tennyson's Gift, about Charles Dodgson, mirror, reflect, don't copy. Or look to Return to Oz! In one breath a loving tribute, but in another, a horrific nightmare that could have easily happened to Dorothy. Sasha Soren could one day be a great writer, I truly feel that, which I think is why this book so disappointed me.


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