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Contains mature themes.
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By DabOfDarkness on 09-16-17
Beautiful, charming, slightly scary story
Inspired by Shakespeare’s The Tempest, this novel explores the characters of Miranda, daughter of the betrayed and exiled Prospero, and Caliban, the orphaned son of an exiled witch. These three live in isolation on an island where Prospero chains the local spirits to his will and schemes his revenge on those who betrayed him.
I don’t recall ever having read or watched The Tempest (though it might have happened in school) so I came into this book not knowing much about the story and characters. We meet Miranda as a young girl. Her father has quite the ego and demands complete obedience from his daughter. They’ve been on the island for some years at this point, living in the still intact part of a crumbling fortress or castle. He’s tied several island spirits to his bidding. A fire salamander keeps his hearth warm while little house gnomes and elves clean. Miranda, and later Caliban, have to do most of the foraging and cooking as well as tending the cooking hearth as Prospero will only leash one fire salamander and that one is for his work rooms alone.
It’s a lonely life for a child. She makes friends with the hens only to learn the hard way that is not so wise. When Caliban does come on the scene, he’s only a few years older than Miranda and has been living on his own for several years. Prospero is a bit cruel in his handling of Caliban in those early days. It’s Miranda’s kindness that brings Caliban into language, cooking, and servitude. They develop a deep friendship.
For some reason, I found parts of this book slow. I haven’t quite put my finger on it but I did set this book aside once or twice to go read something a little more fast paced and then came back to this story. Perhaps it is because the story is told from Miranda’s and eventually Caliban’s points of view. They don’t know how they came to be on the island nor do they know Prospero’s history nor what his end game is. Since I hadn’t experienced The Tempest, I didn’t either and this left a lot of big questions that weren’t revealed until near the end of the book. Even then, I finished this book feeling I need to go read The Tempest to have the full understanding of this story.
I did enjoy all the magical elements of the tale. The spirit Ariel was a wild card. Is it malevolent or merely frustrated at being imprisoned and then later chained to Prospero’s bidding? It does torment Caliban with truth-laced words from time to time. Prospero is almost always in his rooms working on some bit of magic or other. He trains Miranda in some of these minor aspects but he rarely explains anything so she’s kept in ignorance. This state makes it easier for Prospero to control her which becomes more and more important as both Caliban and Miranda age.
There’s plenty about coming of age, specifically learning how to deal with menstruation. Indeed, I was surprised by how much detail went into this subject as it is so often avoided, glanced over, or even treated like a taboo. There is this one little part that I did think, ‘Eeewwwww!’ about but I think that’s understandable.
It took me longer to get attached to Caliban. He comes into the story later, partly because he has to spend some time learning speech. However, he came to be my favorite character. Miranda is sweet but also biddable (as is to be expected because of her father’s manipulations). She does eventually grow to have her own thoughts and some independent actions, but that might be too late to avoid her father’s end game. Caliban however has spirit, an inner fire that lets him do plenty of independent thinking and actions to suit. This makes sense since he had to learn to see to himself once he was orphaned.
The ending wasn’t what I was expecting though it did have me hanging on every word. I wanted Prospero taken down and I hoped that Miranda and Caliban would have a lasting happy ending. However, things don’t go that way and it surprised me. It’s a complete ending but it left me feeling a bit sad. Perhaps I will feel differently about it after I read The Tempest.
The Narration: Gemma Dawson was a great voice for Miranda. She managed to start with a little kid Miranda and age her voice little by little as Miranda ages to a teen. Miranda has some complex emotions and Dawson was great at capturing those. In some ways, I feel that Alex Wyndham had a harder chore in portraying Caliban, who starts off with just a few words in his vocabulary and his abilities grow throughout the story. Caliban often thinks in nature imagery, comparing actions or feelings to things he’s experienced – like quick little fish for quick little thoughts. Wyndham did a great job at performing Caliban’s growth in language.
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