Book Review: Foreshadowing – Marcus Sedgwick

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“If you could see the future, could you change it?

It is 1915. 17-year-old Sasha Fox is the privileged only daughter of a respected doctor living in the wealthy seaside town of Brighton. But her brothers, Edgar and Tom, have gone to war and Sasha has a terrible gift. She can see the future. Her premonitions show her untold horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and worse still, what will happen to Edgar and Tom.

Like the prophetess Cassandra, who foretold the tragedies of Troy, Sasha is trapped by power. No one will believe her. Her family have lost faith in her. She is determined to win them back, whatever the price. And it is a high one – seeing the future is a fate almost too awful to contemplate – for who wants to see the end of their own story…?

Stylishly written in his familiar, poetic prose the story is that of a world full of threat and a child in jeopardy – but with a heroine resourceful enough to try to change the path of Fate.”

 Okay, so, here’s the deal.

This book was given to me many years ago, as a birthday present.

And not one of the good presents, either. I didn’t recognise the author, was more than a little dubious about that alleged ‘poetic’ style, and, regardless of the fact that it had a pretty intriguing synopsis, as soon as I realised that the main character could see into the future, I also realised exactly what it was that I was holding, and was about ready to do absolutely anything to avoid immersing myself into yet another book-related misery fest – at least not until I’d had time to recover from the last one.

So, I shelved it instead of reading it, and promptly forgot that it was even there.

Then.

(She says, casually building the tension)

I was given another Sedgwick book to sink my metaphorical teeth into, and given that it came highly recommended by the book-giver (more colloquially known as my older brother), I decided to give that a try, on the basis that if I really didn’t like it, I could always read something else instead.

And – drum roll please – I loved it.

It was an absorbing, involved read, an incredibly well written novel, and, wonder of wonders, blessed with an interesting plot and intriguing, well-defined characters. As such, I experienced a complete turnaround on the subject of Sedgwick’s novels, and, subsequently, decided to read Foreshadowing too, on the basis that the chances of me enjoying it were relatively high, and because I was on something of a roll.

I was right on all accounts, which was enough of a surprise that I actually remembered being surprised.

Foreshadowing is, as I so articulately termed it, a ‘misery fest.’ Really. It’s miserable at the beginning, it’s miserable at the end, and the less said about the middle the better it is for everyone involved.

But it is hardly rare for a book to inspire some kind of emotional reaction, whether it’s unholy glee or helpless messy sobbing, and, arguably, the emotional impact that Foreshadowing has on the reader only improves it. Easily as good as Sedgwick’s other novels – if not more so – it’s a calculated foray into the trope of the seer, turning an arguably rather overused plot device into something new, fresh, and interesting. This is no happy story, but it doesn’t pretend to be one, either.

Plot:

War devastates the world, and the main character, Zoe, is blessed – or cursed – with visions of death. Foreshadowing is her story, and it is one that takes the reader from the structured environment of her home to the relentless horror of the Somme, and one that never once pulls a punch. Foreshadowing doesn’t shy away once, not even from the most difficult of topics, and Sedgwick’s portrayal of individuals suffering PTSD was both truthful and sympathetic, an admirable quality in any novel touching on past conflict. The plot was discernible and easy to follow, but still managed to surprise and shock.

Characters:

Naturally, I objected particularly vehemently to some of the characters, but not because they were badly written, but because they were the exact opposite. They were totally believable, profoundly irritating, and extremely well crafted. However, I found it impossible to relate to Sasha, and didn’t much like what I did understand, either, which is why although Foreshadowing is an excellent book, and although I enjoyed reading it – for a given value of ‘enjoyed’ – it’s not one of my favourites. Granted, that’s not a reflection on how the book was written – just on me, a terrible human being.

General Comments:

Foreshadowing is not a happy read, but it is not marketed as one, and I think the average reader should be able to tell from the outset exactly what they’re getting into. But it is very well written, a shining example of Marcus Sedgwick’s work and style, and home to an intriguing plot and believable characters, as well as an intelligent and sympathetic portrayal of war.

An assured novel from an assured author, Foreshadowing is well worth a read.

Book Review: Wyrd Sisters – Terry Pratchett

Wyrd Sisters

“Things like crowns had a troublesome effect on clever folks; it was best to leave all the reigning to the kind of people whose eyebrows met in the middle.

 Three witches gathered on a lonely heath. A King cruelly murdered, his throne usurped by his ambitious cousin. A child heir and the crown of the kingdom, both missing. The omens are not auspicious for the new incumbent, for whom ascending this tainted throne is a more complicated affair than you might imagine, particularly when the blood on your hands just won’t wash off and you’re facing a future with knives in it.”

Down with the monarchy!

Or…not.

In Wyrd Sisters, our three favourite witches on every side of the Ramtops interfere in, would you believe it, a good old-fashioned succession dispute (you’d better believe it), while steadfastly claiming to be doing anything [i]but[/i] interfering, because of course such shocking behaviour is below them.

There are a few other interesting events, such as Magrat’s heroic romance, a pub-crawl in our beloved Ankh Morpork (not for the faint of heart), and some dubious broomstick shenanigans, too, but, in the main, the future of the monarchy is at stake – or the monarchy they know and tolerate, anyway, like particularly thick but generally tasty porridge – and the characters in Wyrd Sisters are heavily involved in putting it right.

Or, at least, putting it less wrong.

With more than a passing resemblance to Shakespeare’s Macbeth­ – that’s the one with the dagger, for those of you that have left the particularly bloody tragedies to the sleep-deprived English students – Wyrd Sisters is an interesting jaunt of a tale, in possession of many of the successful components of vaguely similar novels, such as intrigue, murder, and ambitious – not to mention slightly unnerving – wives. It’s also written undeniably well, chockfull of Terry Pratchett’s special brand of biting humour, and has a good sense of pace.

That said (here we go), I found myself fundamentally unconvinced.

There are humorous scenes, it is certainly well written, the pacing works, and the plot is simple enough to follow, but complex enough to be interesting, but there were many aspects that jarred, preventing me from enjoying it in entirety. The problem was, simply, that I had read many other – better – Terry Pratchett novels, and that this one fell by the wayside.

Among other things, I felt that there was far too much emphasis on Magrat’s physical appearance, in comparison with what was offered of the other characters, both male and female. A basic description is expected, but Magrat’s fundamental lack of attractiveness seems to be a main feature of every single scene that she happens to feature in, regardless of why she’s there, what she’s doing, and who she’s talking to you. Aside from that being utterly unnecessary, it had the additional consequence of meaning that when she later engaged in her Epic Romance™, additional effort had to be expended to ensure that the reader knew her partner also qualified as unattractive, as justification for said Epic Romance ™.

Ugh.

Aside from that – moving on rather quickly – Wyrd Sisters frequently sidles unconvincingly into moralising, reading, on occasion, like a thesis on morality and the ruling class, with a side dish of very literal citizens and a temperamental forest, in case of boredom. Thus, despite the many undeniably positive aspects, I found Wyrd Sisters to be a slow, wearisome read, with little to save it beyond the familiar characters of our favourite witches and the unique peculiarities of the Discworld.

In other words, like the snobby English student I was: I’ve come to expect a certain level of excellence, and Wyrd Sisters fails to deliver.