Hardcover, 375 pages
Published April 1st 2013 by Arthur A. Levine Books
This is a tale of missing persons. Madeleine and her mother have run away from their former life, under mysterious circumstances, and settled in a rainy corner of Cambridge (in our world).
Elliot, on the other hand, is in search of his father, who disappeared on the night his uncle was found dead. The talk in the town of Bonfire (in the Kingdom of Cello) is that Elliot’s dad may have killed his brother and run away with the Physics teacher. But Elliot refuses to believe it. And he is determined to find both his dad and the truth.
As Madeleine and Elliot move closer to unraveling their mysteries, they begin to exchange messages across worlds — through an accidental gap that hasn’t appeared in centuries. But even greater mysteries are unfolding on both sides of the gap: dangerous weather phenomena called “color storms;” a strange fascination with Isaac Newton; the myth of the “Butterfly Child,” whose appearance could end the droughts of Cello; and some unexpected kisses…
“And then something happened. It was a fragment of time, a breath of time. It was like being in a car in pouring rain and driving under an overpass, and for just that second there is a profound, powerful sense of reprieve- the utter silence of non-rain.”
I love Jaclyn Moriarty’s writing. I may not always love her books but her writing is superb. She has this way of linking words, thoughts and pictures that is seamless, beautiful and sometimes heartrending. When I heard that Moriarty was writing a new book, I was happy. I did a happy dance to prove my happiness and it was okay, because no one could see me dancing. And that’s how I like it.
If you have read Shades of Gray by Jasper Fforde, you will have some idea of the content inside. But more on that cryptic statement later. First, I have to admit that I spent a good portion of this book frustrated. I didn’t realize that Madeleine and Elliot would have separate stories and their only contact would be through the white pieces of paper on which they wrote letters to each other so I kept waiting for them to meet. To interact in person rather than textually (though to me it would be all textually, that kind of blows my mind, hee) and when that didn’t happen and doesn’t seem like it will happen, I got impatient.
Ah, even sitting here on my front porch, looking out over the fields, there’s a part of me aches to see him walking. To conjure him out of the sunlight in the distance. The shape of my dad, I can almost see it, crossing the field toward me. Come to put his arm around me, reach out an arm to my mother as well, and I’ll close my eyes and just breathe.
However, once the story gets its groove on, and I’m not gonna lie, it takes a while to get its groove on, it is full blast fantastic, The Kingdom of Cello is well built, the politics, the seasons, the geography, heck, even the dialects of the various people living there. The stereotypes and the habits, it is all so well imagined and expressed. Elliot is an interesting character – Madeleine imagines him as some sort of bucktoothed, fantasy loving geek when it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Both protagonists have daddy issues but both have lucked out on their mothers. Between Madeleine and Elliot though, I liked Elliot better because I couldn’t get a handle on Madeleine. She’s a rather fey creature and though we get a lot of stuff from her, the interiority that I wanted, the glimpse of her that I wanted remained elusive. And I think this is rather intentional because Elliott seems more substantial because he has always had a strong foundation, a family, friends and a strong sense of self. Madeleine, on the other hand, is fragmented. She’s a mixture of people, places, colours and languages. We cannot grasp her wholly because she doesn’t know herself wholly. I don’t know if it is intentional but I like that we come upon her as she is being formed.
Of course, she has the signature craziness of all of Moriarty’s protagonists and I loved that. Her fascination with colours (the model on the cover is Madeleine in a scene) connects her to Elliot.
The Kingdom of Cello is beset by a problem of hostile colours. They attack in swarms and can kill or maim unsuspecting citizens. Elliot and Madeleine converse a lot about colours and it’s fascinating – this will be a perfect companion book for Fforde’s dystopian novel, I’m just saying. Anyway, I won’t go into too much detail about the colours because that is an experience best had without any expectations. The book is far stronger in the second half than in the first half and the ending is awesome. The ending is actually what pulled the rating up from 3 stars to 4. The ending sets up the next book perfectly and pulls together all the strings that you had no idea were waving about.
“This is what I want you all to do. I want you to open a new document and type up a list of three problems in your life. Not the universe’s life – your own. Underneath, type the solutions.”
“If we know the solutions,” said Belle, “they’re not problems.”
“Exactly,” said Denny. “You do know the answers to most of your problems. Somewhere deep inside, you know.”
The book is not Moriarty’s best but it does contain some wry but absolutely on point observations about the world. It is a delightful foray into fantasy and Moriarty’s signature technique (?) remains: strong characters, fresh and funny writing. I’m not sure this book will be for everyone as it requires a lot of patience but if you want something that will leave you with a warm glow at the end, this is definitely it.