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  • Writer's pictureRussell F. Hirsch

Writing Rewind! Tips from Recent Reads

Today, I break down a few skills (skillz?) on display in recent reads from the past month, specifically, books by Sayantani Dasgupta, John Flanagan, and Philip Pullman.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (2017)

I covered this book in my previous review but wanted to ruminate more on the fantastical twist it takes over the last 100 pages. I liked the sense of wonder and enchantment this added, but it did make the ending feel like a separate book from the first three-quarters.

I think Pullman is able to pull this off in part because La Belle Sauvage is just the first book in a series, so we know he is likely to expand on Book 1’s fantastical elements in Book 2. I think it also works because the fantastical elements are consistent with the sort of thing we saw in HDM, even though much of La Belle Sauvage is more realistic and the story is quite distinct from the original trilogy. The level of fantasy and imagination in HDM sets a precedent that ensures we are not blindsided by the fantastical elements in La Belle Sauvage. However, I do wonder if a less prolific author than Pullman would have had the leeway for this shift in tone.

I’ve enjoyed reading John Flanagan’s series, which I somehow missed as a teen! What stood out for me in particular in Book 2 was the brotherly banter between the characters of Will, Horace, and Gilan–all young men questing together. The way they both encourage and poke fun at one another was amusing and genuine. On the whole, I like how Flanagan portrays his young male protagonists–they are certainly heroic physically, but also reflective and considerate.

Dasgupta does an excellent job tackling some serious subjects–especially immigration–without compromising the fun, zany ambiance of her fantasy world. At one point, the heroine Kiranmala must travel through an interdimensional doorway that resembles an airport security checkpoint–with a hungry rakkhosh demon security officer!

As Kiranmala winds through the “undocumented” line she faces a number of ridiculous and snide signs with instructions like: “Drink all your liquids. Take off your shoes. Hop on one foot.” Or, later, “No drinking of liquids. No bare feet. And unless you can provide evidence of being part toad, kangaroo, or jumping juju beast, stop hopping!”

Through the signs (and the other hoops Kiranmala has to jump through to reach the doorway, which is not insignificantly located in Arizona), Dasgupta manages an impressive balancing act: she gives readers a taste of the long, tedious, and confusing process that immigrants are often forced to go through when entering a new country–all while retaining the silly, upbeat humor that characterizes the novel. This was a great example of enfolding political commentary in a humorous and imaginative narrative!

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