17 June, 2014

A Little Witchery

Miss Mabel's School for Girls

Katie Cross

     At the very top of the cover of this novel it says, “Book One in the Network Series”, so i have no excuse for being surprised; let me merely state, for the record then, that while i knew there would be sequels, i did not expect this book to almost require them ~ it is not, by any means, a standalone novel, the way The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (to name but two novels which are also the first books in series) are. I expected a certain amount of unfinished business, i suppose, but what we have here is a book which sets up a plot with a lot of tension and antagonism in it, but insufficient resolution; not satisfactory to me, i'm afraid.

     When i read something like this, which has what to me is a large drawback, i can only fall back on my single criterion to help me decide if it is a success: Would i read another book by Katie Cross, based solely on the fact that she is the author of this one? If yes, then Miss Mabel is a success; if no, then it's not. So, then, how do i feel? Funnily, i struggle to know exactly how to respond. Indeed, i find i need to lay out the positive and negative stimuli and reactions in order to find my response.

     On the upside, i enjoyed the thing almost all the way through; that should be enough for me, but clearly it wasn't. The characters are fairly well drawn ~ at least the major ones; the minor ones are not, to my mind, sufficiently in focus that they can be told apart. Character is essential to me to cause me to want to read on; if i don't care for a character and don't care what happens (for good or for ill) to him then i don't have a lot pulling me to finish or read another. Here i care about the two main characters, the protagonist/narrator Bianca and her antagonist Miss Mabel; that is good. Unfortunately, not only do i not really care about the others, i don't really know anything about them, there is not enough detail given ~ or i didn't pick up on enough ~ to know the difference between Bianca's classmates or the other teachers in the school.

     In general, the plot falls on the upside as well, in that it is deliberately structured to pull the reader in, the conflict is strong and requires resolution. It is by no means a unique plot, after all, how many are, but it is given enough that is new that it feels exciting and fresh. On the downside, the driving conflict, between Bianca and her teacher, Miss Mabel, is not resolved, indeed, shows signs of not being resolved until the end of the series, however many books that might turn out to be; this is not necessarily the death knell for a book (the conflict between Harry Potter and Voldemort isn't finally resolved until the end of the septology, for example), but it must be sufficiently resolved to bring some satisfaction to the reader and Cross doesn't give enough, in mine opinion. In addition, within that conflict and around it, there are a lot of questions raised which i am not confident are ever going to be answered; i have to assume that they will be, but that is my assumption about Cross's intentions as author rather than any deduction from the book itself. I want to know more, for example, about the curse laid on Bianca, and then about curses in general in this world.

     In fact, i am led to a certain amount of frustration by my lack of knowledge, as i want to know more about the setting ~ the Networks, their geography and history ~ and the characters ~ other students and teachers at the school ~ and the results of the plot against the leadership which lies in the fairly immediate past. This lack is for me definitely on the downside, quite strongly so. The result is that, torn as i am, i shall probably read another of the series, if i come across it when it is released, but not with the bated breath that i love pulling me towards a book i want to read. Still, in the end, if mild, yet a success.

No comments: