Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Series Settling in to its Genre

Well it took me long enough, and it's not even original... Before I had even finished Flavia, part II (a.k.a the purple book) Sarah Sp. told me she had purchased part III.  Whatever reservations I had about The Weed that Strings the Handman's Bag (oh, that was the title :)) I certainly enjoyed it enough to read the next one, so I put it on the top of my list.  I then proceeded to take a week and a half to finish, but to be fair, that was without reading at all on Shabbos (busy with Peryl's sheva brachos).

It was much the same as the other ones, an English countryside mystery, mostly driven by Flavia's energy and imperturbability (I must admit I thesaurused that from unflappability, which I think I used already, but it was at the tip of my tongue).  It also continued the pattern (is it a pattern after two times?) of becoming more of a mystery and less of a genre bend than its predecessor.  Well you know that didn't particularly warm it to my heart.  And the mystery itself, while full of promising elements (Gypsies, forgery, old secrets, religious fanaticism) didn't *quite* deliver... some of those plot twists could fallen by the wayside without changing the outcome much.  But okay, like I care about the crafting of the mystery... it's much more important to me that the sleuthing be ever-intriguing... and I suppose every outlandish extra helps.  So I'm not really complaining about that, just commenting.

If I am complaining about anything, it's of course about the non-mystery segment of the novel.  I keep on waiting for Flavia's family life to change, for her to have some epiphany, for her sisters to suddenly grow up, for her father to thaw out... but thus far, not much.  On the father front, there were some tender moments (points) but I am increasingly mystified by Feely and Daffy.  One presumes they are not meant to be monsters but the way they torture Flavia does not strike me as the normal playful teasing of sisters.  It's so incongruous with the dignified tone of the book it almost makes me wonder if Alan Bradley has some hangup about it.  In the first book, Flavia gave as good as she got, which freaked me out a little too... but I feel like it just keeps getting worse, not better, with every book.  And I'm definitely starting to get tired of it. But I hold out hope and wait, hoping that every book will bring about that much needed revolution (preferably with Harriet (Flavia's mother) coming back from the dead - you heard it here first :))

So with all that, Flavia is still a lot of fun to hang out with.  She's smart and capable, indefatigable and ever resourceful.  And excellent sleuth and one whose little idiosyncrasies are easily excused by her tender years.  And though the mystery isn't my prime motivation for reading this book, the author manages to keep it interesting.  And those little scraps of humanity and progress I perceive every now and then from Flavia and her relations are better than nothing.  It wasn't bad, it wasn't bad at all.  And I'm looking forward to number four.

Verdict: 3/5

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