on October 17, 2009
I bought this book for my son who loves giants, wizards and world mythologies. Though it could prove useful for a university-level Celtic mythology class, it leaves adult and child fantasy fans cold.
The publisher recommends the book for children aged 9 to 12 (grades 3 to 6). But the author keeps pelting the reader with unnecessary and pompous vocabulary. Ten year olds do not understand the meaning of bilious, shoal, piety, belie, victuals, uncouth, pang, confound, don, mundane, clout, cantankerous, malodorous, impertinent, hexagonal, nonplussed, simperer, bough and porcine. Embarrassingly, the author sometimes misapplies such words, betraying his ignorance of the word's semantic nuance or even its plain meaning.
On page 2, the author's hasty world-building drowns the reader in a tsunami of proper nouns with insufficient context: Gogmagog, Great Ones, Finn mac Cuhail, Cuhail mac Art, Muirne, Nuada, Albion, Fomorians, Frost Giants, Treryn, Eire, Fianna, Ymir.
The book portrays an unsympathetic protagonist, so you really don't care if he wins or fails, lives or dies. Early on, a human taunts the protagonist Finn with "Did your mummy give you that [lavender] scarf?" Finn responds by lifting the human in the air by the neck (like he's Darth Vader) and threatens to disembowel him with a sword. Finn later cuts his enemy Ymir into two or more pieces, leaving behind a "pool of venomous black blood".
The book obsesses over how the fantasy races of this world differ. The racialist descriptions disturbed me, hinting at undertones of white supremacism. The women act as one-dimensional stereotypes: frustrated and bossy, housewives and spinsters. Finn has this creepy and infantile coping mechanism: he vigorously sucks his thumb to awaken magic powers when he gets desperate. In a gross reliance on paternal phallicism, Finn uses his father's indestructible "red sword" to defeat his enemies.
There's no coherent plot worthy of a novel, more a collection of loosely-related short stories. Finn usually defeats powerful enemies without cleverness. The author bases story events on fastidious research of Celtic mythology, but he shapes the narrative pedantically and without soul.
FINN THE HALF-GREAT clearly aspires to emulate Tolkien's THE HOBBIT, but unfortunately its amateurism lacks the fantastical charm, linguistic craftsmanship, epic stakes, moral guidance or enduring pathos.
on June 10, 2009
The last 20+ years of fantasy fiction have left me cold. The novels seem to me generally to be too derivative and predictable, too unworldly; their internal logic is either lacking or not compelling; they take themselves dreadfully seriously; and their writing is sophomoric.
Theo Caldwell's "Finn the Half-Great," on the other hand, defies these steretypical failings. From the beginning, the author's joie de vivre, insight into human nature and compassion are coupled with a wry sense of humour, and a thorough, sure knowledge of the fantasy land he is creating. It is nearly familiar, achingly so at times; but original and fresh in his bringing it to life.
The characters speak to us through the centuries and the veil of fantasy -because human nature does not change even if times and beliefs do. Exemplar of this is Finn's long-suffering wife: she is at once loyal and tart, critical and loving - the partner of many successful marriages readers will have known in their own lives and seen in the lives of others. Not to spoil the plot, but even his beasties have a sense of humour and a touch of honour.
Not cloying, but deeply felt; not "real" but deeply possible; not "true" but deeply of our world, Finn's quest is fun to read, but, more, it resonates of the power of potential, of love and of triumph over adversity. If those aren't messages for all ages and all times - especially our own just now - I don't know what is. But the theme is not struck at us, hammer-like; rather it is forged with a light touch, and reveals itself through equally sprightly writing.
Caldwell seems a real star of a galaxy whose light is just penetrating Earth's vision. I can't wait for the next volume of Finn's adventures !
on June 10, 2009
This might be the best book I have ever read. It has EVERYTHING - heroes, villains, love, hate, battles, dragons, wizards and, most of all, Giants! And it's VERY funny! Once I got started, I could not stop reading it. The mythology and characters are fascinating, and there are even hidden codes in the words of the book. It's a great story, beautifully written, with fun and inspiration for people of all ages.
I surely hope Theo Caldwell won't have us waiting long to read his next half-Great adventure!