Sunday, February 5, 2012

Pilgrim of the Sky Review

I finished Pilgrim of the Sky yesterday. It's actually the second time I've read the book. Let me backtrack. In my junior year of college I met Natania Barron in a fiction writing class. Over the next two years, we took a couple classes together. She was an English major and I was a History major but we both took a lot of writing and medieval classes so we crossed paths a lot. My roommate and I "kidnapped" her one night and spent hours locked in our room just chatting. After college we lost touch, but periodically, when my roommate and I got together we wondered what had happened to Natania. So as you do, we googled her. We ended up finding her husband's blog and sent him a message for Natania with our info. Long story short, he eventually passed it on, she emailed back or found me on facebook and we've been friends ever since, even though we haven't seen each other in person since 2003 (ah!).

Anyway, when we got back in touch, Natania was a full time writer and a stay at home mom. Being interested in the fantasy genre myself, we talked a lot about writing and her works in progress. She started Pilgrim of the Sky for NaNoWriMo one year and when it was done, she let me read it. I found out only recently that I was the first person she showed the book to. I'm so happy she did. Since then I've read a few of her books and am excited for more (especially an Edwardian story about two sisters that sounds right up my alley!).

Natania is into steampunk. I didn't even know what that meant until I started reading her books. I'd never heard the term, but I love how she weaves cool gadgets and tech into Victorian and medieval worlds. She has a real gift for description. Every scene is absolutely drenched with color and detail. You really get a feel for the world and the characters as you read.

What I found incredible is that some scenes had been so indelibly etched into my brain that despite the time lapse between reads, I vividly recalled certain scenes before stumbling on them in the book. My friend has a serious gift for writing.

So onto the plot. This is the description from amazon: Just when Maddie Angler thinks she's over the death of her longtime boyfriend, Alvin, she discovers that he's not only alive, but he may just be part god. And a killer. Now it's up to her to unite Eight Worlds she didn't even know existed in the first place, before chaos reigns. 

Ok so there are eight worlds, all of which are connected. Some people can travel between worlds. There are characters who have versions of themselves on other worlds too, who all seems to be connected to gods. I don't want to delve too deeply into this for fear of giving something away, but overall the book deals with the concept of a multiverse and the Joseph Campbell idea that all myths (and therefore all deities) are really the same. The Romans used to think like this too - Egypt has a sun god? So do the Greeks and so do the Romans! All cultures have certain archetypal gods and Natania does a good job of weaving those together.

The best parts of the book take place in Second World, a lush Victorian-esque Boston where tea is laced with opium and mansions are built on top of what I picture as giant air balloons. It's a gorgeously realized place and Maddie - who gets sucked into this world - is as intrigued by the ride as I was. Second World Boston feels old fashioned and wonderfully modern at the same time. It's surrounded by a wild frontier, and is therefore the last bastion of society in the area. The various characters that Maddie meets are interesting and I would have liked to spend more time with some of them, particularly those connected to Alvin, like a blind woman, whose name I can't recall off the top of my head. We get a glimpse of her and then we don't see her again. I thought she was in the book more but I guess I remembered that incorrectly. The last third of the book takes us into First World where Maddie has to face off against various deities and go through tests.   That part had a slightly different feel from the rest of the book, but I still enjoyed it, especially one scene that mimics Botticelli's Birth of Venus. That was really well done.

My two gripes (well not really gripes, rather two things that struck me as off when reading): 1. There was a character named Miriam mentioned a couple times that I wanted to know more about. It seemed as though her character would be important but we never actually met her. Sequel? I'm up for it if Natania is! :-)  2. There were several errors in the kindle edition of the book. I'm sort of a grammar/writing nazi and I pick up on errors easily. Now I haven't compared the digital edition to the trade yet (it's at my parents' house) but I was surprised by the mistakes. I don't know whether they were due to the conversion from print to digital or whether they were copy editor errors. Sometimes I think I should have been a copy editor. I know e-book readers have complained about errors in digital books a lot, especially older books that were quickly transferred without a good read through, but I really feel that publishers and copy editors need to take the time to carefully comb through books. Have more than one eye look the book over. Or hire me and I'll do it.  That's a general note about all books, not just this one! :-)

In general, I find Natania to be wonderfully talented. She's a gifted storyteller and she constantly makes me want to start writing again. She has several other books in the works that I hope get picked up by a publishing company so they can be shared as well. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, and pick up Pilgrim of the Sky. It's a great debut from someone who definitely is just getting started!

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