“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Review

(While I am more than committed to #KeepingTheSecrets, there are mild-to-moderate spoilers here for folks who are talented at squinting, connecting dots, or discovery charms. This is your warning.)

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As of this writing, I’ve just wrapped up a whopping near nine hours of theater, walked 30 blocks to avoid the midtown trains, spent an hour on the Subway reading reviews and TV Tropes pages, marched the 20 mins home and have immediately sat down to write this review.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play that doesn’t leave you when you leave the theater. While it doesn’t weigh as heavy as say, Les Miserables or leave you as emotionally shaken as the surprisingly graphic Anastasia, the magic is something alive and living and it takes root in those willing to believe.

That being said, any production, no matter how beautiful and charming and amazing can still have its flaws, and it’s no secret that Harry Potter has found more than its fair share of criticisms.

Here are my own feelings:

The Good Stuff

Music

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I expected to be enthralled by the staging and being thrown back into a magical world I’ve always loved so much. I didn’t expect to be so taken in by the music.

Composed by indie musician Imogen Heap, the score combines bubbly vocals with stirring strings, but the instruments never seem to bog down the modern sounds. The energetic beats were incredibly refreshing when I sat down expecting the same-old full pit orchestra with cinematic, but unremarkable swells.

I plan on looking into where to find the soundtrack immediately to have it underscore literally everything I do from now on.

Movement

While Harry Potter is a straight play – and one of the only shows on Broadway now with no singing and dancing, it features a huge amount of choreographed “movement”. Incredibly synchronized with sound queues, beat-for-beat and step-for-step with the music, the movements are not only very cool-looking, but also highly metaphorical. Certain steps represent boarding a train, gathering for class, learning to control magic, or travels in time and space.

Movement makes up for a relatively minimalist set but also ensures the show is full of action and momentum.

There’s also a super-cool dance the bad guys do. It’s just wonderful to behold.

Character

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Here’s the thing about Harry Potter. He’s the teenage protagonist in a book intended for 10-to-16-year-olds and while it’s fun to watch him wangst through a PTSD meltdown, he’s the rebellious hero of the plucky resistaince who you know will win out in the end.

You don’t see him as a mature human with real grown-up depth. You don’t see him as vulnurable, deal with real adult fears, or face the prospects of perhaps failing at being a father. And that is a beautiful thing to see unfold onstage, especially when it’s as wonderfully acted as this current cast played it.

Stage Magic

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I fully admit that sitting down for this show, it’s 60-70% of what I was there for. The Cool Stuff.

There’s fire shooting out of wands, instantaneous on-stage quick-changes, trap-door affects, transformations, flying wirework performances, moving staircase montages, spinning clocks, and a supercool blacklight-induced reveal that I won’t spoil here. And more.

If you’ve got even a passing interest in stagecraft, slight-of-hand, or practical effects, this show is a spectacular.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

(Much more spoilery spoilers abound here. If you’re really into secret-keeping, skip this section)

Central Conflict

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There’s no easy way to put this. The entire central conflict revolves around the fact that the boys want to save Cedric Diggory’s life (remember him?) but if they cause him to fail the Triwizard Tournament, he will delve so deep into bitterness and self-pity, the kid will become a Death Eater and usher in a new holocaust at the hands of the Maginazis.

Yeah. Cedric Diggory who took his Quidditch losses in stride. Cedric Diggory who offered Harry help with his own Triwizard challenges even if it meant the possibility of setting himself back. Cedric Diggory who had caring and supportive parents who loved him to the ends of the earth and grieved over his death until their own final breaths. Cedric Diggory.

You know what would have made a better plot? Saving someone who actually mattered to Harry and his children. Sirius Black, one of the only adults in Harry’s life who didn’t see him as a means to an end or as some mythological hero and who Albus could look up to as the heavy metal flying motorcycle rebel hero he never knew. Remus Lupin who didn’t treat Harry as an extension of his father, who left behind his own orphan who could easily come back with his own angsty blame against the Potters. And Lupin so deserves a more accurate representation. (I refuse to be sorry for this, David Thewlis always seemed like he had little understanding or interest in his own character).

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Literally anything but turning sweet, normal Cedric Diggory into some evil cape-twirling racist.

Themes and Resolution Dissonance

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One central theme running through The Cursed Child is that ones parents do not necessarily determine their destiny and that it’s okay to seek love, care, and validation if it’s done in a healthy way.

This is completely dropped when it comes to our main villain.

This antagonist, revealed very late in the show, is another orphan-of-war who was brought up, much like Harry himself, in less than pleasant circumstances without much by way of loving care. While Harry has pity and affection piled on him despite his numerous mistakes that nearly and actually resulted in the deaths of others, our heroes refuse to even consider the perspective of the villain.

They made it clear that all they sought was love, validation, and appreciation from their parents, and have gone about finding it by any means necessary. They felt the need to be “evil” in order to achieve these goals that the heroes themselves work to because they weren’t given the same support or options.

Not only that, but the heroes are practically hand-delivered a golden opportunity to reverse the ravages of time and bring this neglected person into a more healthy home, but instead the “good guys” merely fling them off-stage with the promise of locking them away in the cold, lonely villain prison where they’d live out the remainder of their days under the threat of their souls being forcibly sucked out.

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  • Some actors seemed a little too keen on acting exactly like the characters in the movies did. McGonnagal and Hagrid in particular seemed to be trying a little too hard.
  • Hagrid also had a very strange moment after something extremely tragic where he kinda blunders in like a big pile of jolly joy where canonically he was absolutely distraught. It made him seem a bit flat.
  • Ron, too, got flattened to little more than a joke character and comic relief, the writers sort of missed the point of him.
  • If two of the characters were male and female, they would have been each other’s love interests with absolutely zero changes to the script, but because they are the same gender, they had to have an extra heterosexual love interest shoehorned in.
  • Some strange religious imagery where there never was any before in the world of Harry Potter. Not that I have any particular problem with it myself, it just seemed a little out of place.
  • Time travel plots.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a good show. It was a magical, exciting ride, and while long, certainly worth the time. While it had its issues, returning to the world of Harry Potter was a journey I’ll never forget.

 

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow

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Before I picked up a copy of Walkway lying on a street corner, the only thing I knew about Cory Doctorow was that he was the guy on xkcd that wore a red cape and goggles for no explicable reason.

 

I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, and to be honest, I’m still not certain what this book is about.

Is it about people rejecting society now that post-scarcity technology has given them the opportunity? Is it about what it means to be human, alive, to exist in a world where your mind can be uploaded into a computer? Is it about freedom of information, computer security, open source programming?

This was a part of the problem with this book, and why I didn’t entirely like it. It seemed unfocused, as if the author had many great ideas but could only crank out one book (his last adult effort was close to a decade ago.) Perhaps it’d work better as a series of short stories, instead of trying to tie all of these concepts together with a loose thread (“They’re walking away from society – and walking away from death!”)

Characters begin preaching at the drop of a hat, monologuing more than a Shakespeare character and any unique voice between them is lost. No speech patterns or verbal tics or anything distinct remains when the long-winded speeches begin, and it makes it incredibly difficult sometimes to tell who is speaking when and where.

That being said, there are some good points to this book. It’s a very intelligent book, the concepts – numerous as they may be – are well-thought-out and explored in-depth. What Doctorow decides to describe is written in rich, full language, the emotions are palpable.

It’s full of computer jargon and future technobabble which may be hard for others to surmount, but can be a fun challenge for those willing to take the plunge. I recommend having a friend in computer science on retainer to ask questions, or be prepared to google and a lot.

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Wikipedia can’t help you now! (okay, this one isn’t too bad.)

I’m not sure if I’d recommend this book, I was no huge fan myself. It wasn’t what I was expecting or hoping for, but I certainly stuck around for the ride.

 

See Also:

Book Review: The Lies of Locke LamoraBook Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

One Book. One Month.

I’m doing it. I’m really actually doing it. For reals this time.

In the month of April, I’m writing an entire book in one month. While the huge 50,000-word goal of NaNoWriMo may be a bit out of my range, I plan on having something complete and whole and ready to be edited and re-written by May 1st.

I’m working mostly with the Book In a Month system (BIAM), but modified as I rarely write in order and BIAM is scheduled to work linearly. There are plans for many encouragement cookies, sessions with a six-pack, and sticker bribery in order to encourage me to work through the numerous writers’ blocks and work stresses that will inevitably come my way.

What’s the book, you may ask?

I’m working on a Middle Grade novel with some minor alternative history twists about a reality competition show where tweenage girls from around the world compete to be the next princess of a forgotten microstate in Europe. It’s fun, light, and a bit of a break from the fantastic dramas of Faehunter.

All of my blog posts in the month of April will be about my progress, pitfalls, triumphs, and successes and will likely be posted every Thursday. I’m counting on your support and encouragement over the next 30 days!

Wish me luck!

Further Reading:

Book In a Month: The Fool-Proof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
National Novel Writing Month

See Also:

What to do With A Writer’s Block
New Year, New Notebook

Faehunter Prospective Cover

As many of us following along are aware, I am beginning to think about publishing Faehunter, trying to see if any agents are interested.

I decided the other day to take a break and take some advice about having a prospective cover available to offer at book conventions and conferences, just to give folks a bit of the feel of my book.

Here it is, the Faehunter almost-cover:

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It features the beautiful “Mystic Queen Ivy Crown” by Caminas Jewelry Designs and a dagger I found hanging in the Met one day.

Here’s to hoping it’ll get me noticed!

Do you like the design? Let me know in the comments!

The Magic of W.B. Yeats

W.B. Yeats is one of Ireland’s most celebrated writers and a Nobel Prize winner. A poet, a playwright, a journalist, and a collector of folklore, he is also one of the primary collectors of local tales surrounding the sidhe or fairies.

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Born in the suburbs of Dublin in 1865, he spent his childhood days in County Silgo, and it’s no coincidence that so many of his stories and folk tales come from there.

His first book of poetry, published in 1989, may have been a daunting and drawn-out love letter to poets like Edmund Spenser, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, but he soon came into his own style, earning the Nobel Prize in 1923.

Reading W.B. Yeats from a modern perspective is something of a wild ride. In many of these rural communities, people would blame anything from bad weather to bad luck on the fae.

Sometimes it was an explanation for mental illness, those who “heard voices” or had strange behaviors were believed to be plagued by faery mischief. Sometimes it looked like an easy way to win an argument to say “the faeries did it”.

Many of these stories came from the turn of the century, “modern” to Yeats. Reading them makes it apparent that the coming of that age was an odd clash of the new and old. In one such tale, a child is driven out to a superstitious location by a car.

Not only that, but these stories are an intriguing blend of pagan and Christian themes. Some believe the fae were fallen angels, or ones who weren’t wicked enough to be cast into Hell. Some thought they were the old pagan gods or ancient Irish heroes – many famous faery figures share the same names.

I ended up borrowing a lot of Yeat’s writing and research to use for inspiration for Faehunter.

Creatures such as the aquatic merrows appear (although none of Yeats’ green-toothed, pig-faced men) appear beside the noted house-spirits and capricious faery Queens. Locations like the faery rath, which feature often and with great importance in these tales of folklore, are the centerpiece of numerous scenes. In many of Yeats’ stories, herbs such as hawthorn and sage are mentioned to be sacred to the fae which are a major aspect of faery culture in Twinefold.

Reading Yeats in the modern age may take a fair bit of patience – it’s amazing how much language has changed, nevermind when thick Irish accents are written phonetically. That being said, I highly recommend taking a look for anyone interested in faery folklore or Irish myth.

Further Reading:

W.B. Yeats on Project Gutenberg
Irish Fairy and Folk Tales Barnes and Noble Library of Essential Reading
Mythologies by W.B. Yeats on Amazon.com

See Also:

Short Story: “Shannon in the Wilderness”
The World of Faehunter: The Solitary Fae
The World of Faehunter: The Court of Air and Darkness

 

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

An epic middle-grade fantasy, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is an amazing adventure with intricate – but not over-complicated – world-building, an intriguing system of magic, and a hilarious and endearing cast of characters.

Thirteen-year-old Luna is about to come of age – and into her own powerful magic powers, just as the village known as The Protectorate prepares to battle the woman who raised her as her own. The Girl Who Drank the Moon deals with some heavy topics such as tragedy, loss, corruption, and greed while presenting them wrapped up in the warm quilt of a fairy tale.

I loved this book, even from when I first spied its cover across the room at my local library with its fantastic lettering. It made for very interesting reading as an adult, more pressing conflicts took on a new level of fear, the aspects of motherhood and coming of age resonating in a very different way now that I am between those milestones.

This is also a very interesting book because it is one of the few fantasies I’ve stumbled upon that has a woman of color as a protagonist instead of some mere sidekick or supporting role. Luna is capable, clever, and resourceful, just as much as any Harry Potter or Alanna the Lioness.

I highly recommend this book to parents of children age 9+. It is a wonderful story of family, community, forgiveness, and magic, and would a fantastic bedtime reading story.

See Also:

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora
Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Short Story: “Shannon in the Wilderness”

New Year, New Notebook

“New year, new me”?

Nah, forget that junk.

Try “new year, new notebook”!

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Someone be proud with me about how well I freehanded this logo.

In an effort to take my writing career seriously, I’m starting up a brandy-new composition book dedicated just to work on getting Faehunter from a lowly Google Doc to a fully-fledged book.

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I haven’t even really begun querying and already it’s one of the worst things I’ve ever done.

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My wonderfully cheap earbuds are there to protect the “innocent”.

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Feel free to use this checklist for your own use – although your project may have different needs!

A lot of this info is taken from books I’ve been reading, including:

“Publish Your Book” by Patricia Fry
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters”

Feel free to check them out, there’s a lot of good info there, as well as those hugely-big annual anthologies you can find at your local library.

Some notes also come from a Twitter thread by the wonderful and talented Eric Smith (I just happened to be working on my Querying page(s) when the thread popped up in my Stream.)

And before anyone gets the wrong idea that I have this perfect sans-serif handwriting, allow me to debunk.

If it looks like how a fifth grader would write while flipping off her handwriting teacher, well… That’s pretty much what I did but with fewer calls home.

See Also:

What to do With A Writer’s Block
Short Story: “Shannon in the Wilderness”
Twinefold Begins
Autumn

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora

I stole my copy of The Lies of Locke Lamora without realizing at the time how apt that was. Granted, I didn’t “coat-charm” it from a wealthy publishing executive on Fifth Avenue or run out of a Barnes and Noble with it under my arm, but I like to think Locke would be proud (as dangerous as that can be).

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Someone left it behind at work. They then mysteriously had no way of finding it again.

The Lies of Locke Lamora details the life and times of the eponymous master thief as he dodges the grasp of the organized crime and totalitarian government both, trying to make a quick buck and survive in the waterlogged city of Camorr. It features a huge cast of characters on every possible side of the law, a world of complex cultural aspects and of course, an intricate web of lies.

Generally speaking, I don’t like “depthy” books. I’ve had numerous false starts with Lord of the Rings and Shannara and Dune. While world-building can be fun, too many invented words or exposition dumping tends to lose me.

Early 00s me insists that “awesomer” is so a word.

Locke Lamora is like someone’s dad at the pool: it shoves you in the deep end and just sort of hopes you’ll make it out okay. It throws all kinds of cultural complexity, pseudo-Italian language, a cast of intricately related characters, multiple timelines of flashbacks, and multi-layered political backstabbing right at you and doesn’t stop to make sure you’re keeping up. There’s a single, tiny map and nary an appendix or cast of characters index in sight.

But I wasn’t lost. Somehow I kept up. Maybe it’s a product of the one time I tried to learn Italian through Duolingo but the language wasn’t too hard to figure. I mixed up a few words here and there as it went on but the writing always managed to gently remind me their meanings.

Those of you who know me personally know that I had a minor brush with theft this past summer which has left me ever so slightly on edge ever since and this book did not help. That guy handing out religious pamphlets on the corner? Definitely a distraction for someone rifling through my coat. Those guys pretending to be Buddhist monks in Central Park are certainly scammers, but what about that wallet left behind at the dollar pizza place? Has to be a “tease”. Needless to say, it’s got me endlessly paranoid. But you know. In a good way.

I highly recommend this book to authors, and not just creators of fantasy or speculative fiction. It made me really rethink how I’m presenting my world in the text of Faehunter (you know, outside of some fantastic blog posts). It’s especially valuable to writers who play with timelines as Lies goes fast and loose, flashing back and forth relentlessly. It also features deep characters on wildly sliding scales of morality and idealism which is excellent for writers of any genre to study.

We don’t speak of the “Lost Ones”.

In fact, I recommend this book to just about anyone who doesn’t mind a bit of swearing and gore.

It’s something of a masterpiece.

And while I can’t outright condone thievery (and I’m sure the publishers and author certainly wish I wouldn’t) but you know.

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This one is completely fair game.

 

See Also:

Book Review: Walkaway by Cory Doctorow
Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon