Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Review of The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L Jagi Lamplighter

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L Jagi Lamplighter, The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, 2013. pp 380.

This was one of the most wholly enjoyable books I have read for some time, thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly interesting; an experience especially welcome coming from an author new to me. And unusual; given that I am increasingly hard to please, therefore not always reading fiction nowadays. I may go for a few weeks without having a novel 'on the go' - and even longer if re-reads are not counted.

It is in the Young Adult fantasy genre, set in a co-educational boarding school for sorcerers - something like a more wholesome and hopeful Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams: that is to say, a highly intelligent and witty fiction, bubbling with ideas.

The action is seen through the eyes of a thirteen year old girl who - as well as being an untrained sorcerer - has (inherited from her mother) a special power of memory, with total recall and rewind facilities. This ability is central to the plot - and depicted very convincingly. She is just starting at school, and the action of the book unfolds over the first days, consisting of detailed scenes almost in 'real time'.

As might be expected from a young teen heroine and in the 'girls boarding school genre' (a few Enid Blyton examples of which I read as a kid); nearly all the characters are depicted as very good looking, but in different ways and degrees; and life is seen through a lens of friends and friendship-groups. In addition, each child and teacher seems to have some distinctive magical or personal ability - rather like Marvel or DC superhero teams - so the characters are not inter-changeable.

My point is that the style is light, humourous, somewhat detached. Although there is plenty of emotion and action; these have a 'classical' objectivity - more like a Shaw play or a Mozart opera, than the emotional focus of Shakespeare or Puccini! Rachel Griffin has its passions and romances; but is a world away from the 'hormone storms' and doomed love of most YA fiction. The young heroine is precociously intelligent, sensible, philosophical as well as empathic - and consequently dominates the situation in a way which is essentially feminine - but tom-boyishly feminine. 

So, from my perspective, Rachel Griffin was a completely-successful example of its type - and had me beguiled and mentally-stimulated throughout. And I was pleased to note that this is the first of a series, and there is another Rachel Griffin book for me to look forward to!

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