Pure Dead Magic: Debi Gliori

When I started with ‘Pure Dead Magic’ I had no idea how good the book was going to be or the fact that it was the first of the ‘Pure Dead’ series written by Debi Gliori. I was down with fever over the weekend and feeling quite depressed about it. Then I found ‘Pure Dead Magic’ in my sister-in-law’s book shelf and before I realized my eyes were inextricably glued to its pages, following the smart protagonist duo and their strange pets.

This is a story about the Strega-Borgia family, a set of parents and their three kids Titus, Pandora and baby Damp, who live with their pet fantastical creatures in the StregaSchloss castle. Signor Strega-Borgia walks out of the castle in high temper and after that his family turns wayward and gloomy in his absence. But there is also a ray of hope in the form of Mrs. MacLachlan a new no-nonsense nanny who takes charge of the kids and of frying French fries on special occasions. Things turn ugly when a step uncle undertakes evil business to acquire the fortune which rightfully belongs to Titus. But all has to surely end well when the kids have a teenage dragon, a griffin, a yeti and a crocodile for pets.

Debi Gliori is an awesome writer. The novel is full of fun and eccentric characters who contribute to the events in unexpected ways. A spider surfs the world wide web and finds a lost a baby, while a dangerous goon attacks the castle dressed up as a bunny. Titus and Pandora, the brother – sister duo are the protagonists where Titus is brilliant with computers and Pandora has natural talent at communicating with animals. Technology is interpreted in comical ways and to make it all even droller, magic mixes with technology to bring about hilarious consequences. This book is intended for kids but the story is so good adults can safely read it without any guidance from children. 

‘Pure Dead Magic’ is a totally fun book and I will recommend it to kids and elders alike. The 'Pure Dead' series has two trilogies in it - the 'Pure Dead' and the 'Deep' trilogy, which I expect will be just as ‘pure dead’ good as this first book and am looking forward to getting hold of them.     

You can also read a wonderful interview of Debi Gliori done by Bookwitch and get to know more about the author.

This book can be bought from Flipkart or Landmark in India.

A Fair Maiden: Joyce Carol Oates

I had heard a lot of great things said about Joyce Carol Oates’s short stories and novels. When I turned the first page of ‘A Fair Maiden’ I realized why that was so. The narrative is lush and flows smoothly, the prose is very beautiful and the characters are intriguing.  

The fair maiden of this novel is Katya Spivak, a sixteen year old girl working as a nanny to the kids of the rich Engelhardt family. Katya is herself a child in many ways. She is waiting for the return of her father who had promised many years ago he would be back for her birthday. She fantasizes about his return and at the same time is hoping for some signs of affection from her mother and sisters. But most of all she wishes to be loved. Love crosses her path in the form of 68 year old Marcus Kidder, a rich local who is an artist and a children’s book writer. Katya, vulnerable and too young to understand the dangerous path she is treading on, finds herself attracted to the old man which leads her to disastrous consequences.   

Oates’s writing is engaging. She paints the characters and moods with easy strokes. Katya is a very endearing protagonist and it is easy to perceive the desperation of her feelings and feel concerned for her well being. Marcus Kidder, the other important character, comes through as a dark and complex personality. It is he who weaves a fairy tale like net in which young Katya finds herself entangled. It is power of Oates's prose that he comes through as an intimidating and yet vulnerable person. 

‘A Fair Maiden’ has a fairy tale turn to it and attempts to entwine the fantastic with the realistic. But this is where I was a little less than satisfied with the novel. Though the novel begins promisingly, when it concludes it is not clear whether it intended to be a surreal tale, or a psychological fantasy or a realistic narrative. I think the problem was in the concluding few pages, where characters which had behaved realistically changed their bearing and behaved in a surreal fashion. 

This is a dark tale with a very disturbing subject matter at its heart. Joyce Carol Oates’s writing is very powerful and she gets the reader invested in her characters. Though I was not very happy with this particular novel, I am sure I will be reading more of her work.