Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Seeing Stone by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi

Man, two hours can really fly by when I'm reading. It's even better when I can read an entire book in that time. It either means the book is really short, really bad (leading to skipping) or really good (leading to skipping, followed almost immediately by a second, more thorough re-read).

In this case the book was both short and good. The Seeing Stone is the second book in Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi's Spiderwick Chronicles, and the plot is thickening. I don't want to give too much away, so I thought I'd talk a little bit more about some of the trappings of the story rather than the plot.

Jared, Simon and Mallory Grace are still living with their mother at Spiderwick Estate, an enormous, rambling property with an enormous, ramshackle house and an enormous, ominous forest. We get to know all three a little better in this book, Jared especially. Unfortunately, things still aren't going well for Jared at school; when we catch up with him here, he's coming home from detention after getting into a fight at his new school. Of course, it's all relatively clear in Jared's head, so we sympathize with him -- but at the same time, even Jared's not sure how things seem to be going so bad. It's not like he's trying to cause trouble.

What he is, and we see this even more clearly in this book than we did in the first, is impulsive. He's very smart, and quick-thinking -- but he also does things he should probably know better not to do in his rush to make things right or make things happen. Luckily, Mallory's along to help pull him out of trouble, and she's brave and practical, but also a little stubborn. I suspect that the two of them make a rather flammable combination when they're not both focused on getting the same thing -- which in this case happens to be Simon. Simon, the softy and the peacemaker, the one who cannot stand to see an animal in distress, has been kidnapped by goblins. Jared and Mallory set out to get him back.

The sense of urgency is definitely greater in this book, but not jarringly so. It's building and one gets the impression that it's only going to keep building in the following books. But already we're getting glimpses of how unpleasant things might get for the Grace children. The fairy world that Jared is so fascinated with is not sunshine and roses. It's not all horrible, but there are aspects of it that are pretty frightening, and one gets the impression that the kids are probably already in deeper than they know. Even their fey helpers, like Thimbletack and Hogsqueal, are two-faced and wild, and have the capacity to harm the kids. They're like wild animals; they might appear tame, but they're capricious and incredibly dangerous if they want to be. And the Grace children aren't necessarily going to be able to know when they're going to go off. Nor, one suspects, are the Grace children physically a match for the powers of the fey.

I really like that the authors keep the fey dangerous and unknowable, and inhuman. It doesn't appear (other than the goblins) that the fey the Grace children meet are malicious and out to get them specifically (yet), but more that they're just following their inhuman nature. I like that these essentially wild creatures are not too humanized or cutesy (although the pictures that DiTerlizzi draws of some of them are pretty cute -- not in a saccharine way). They're wild, and their wildness is very well done.

I need to find myself some kids to read this story to. I want to see if they enjoy it as much as I do. Next up: Lucinda's Secret, in which I believe we finally get to meet great-aunt Lucinda, who owns the Estate and who is currently institutionalized for being insane. The reader suspects that she may not be insane at all -- or perhaps she is, but driven insane by creatures no one else could see...

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