I’m afraid I did not like this at all. In fact, it was the first FMK book that I didn’t finish—I ditched it at about the halfway mark. And it’s a very short book, too: 133 pages.

Gabriel is a mason’s apprentice in medieval England. The mason is cruel, so when a troupe of traveling Mystery players comes to town, Gabriel is delighted to briefly escape his wretched life by watching the play. Then, when the mason sadistically tries to chop off his giant mop of beautiful blonde curls that Gabriel’s lost mother told him to never cut, Gabriel flees and is taken in by the players, who whisk him away and cast him as an angel.

Gabriel assumes the man playing God is wonderful and the man playing Lucifer is terrible. But no! Garvey, who plays God, uses Gabriel to create fake, exploitative “healing” miracles which he convinces Gabriel are real. Lucie (Lucifer) is unhappy about this, but that only makes Gabriel think he must be bad.

I have no idea how old Gabriel was supposed to be. At the beginning I assumed he was around twelve, but later I decided he must be closer to ten because he was so stupid and naïve. Then he got even stupider and I wondered if he could possibly be seven or eight, or if that was way too young to be an apprentice mason. Not that young children are stupid, but the less you know about the world, the more likely you are to take everything at 100% face value, as Gabriel does.

In a totally unsurprising turn of events, Gabriel is eventually shocked to learn that people are different from the roles they play. This is exactly as anvillicious as it sounds. And while I often love books in which the reader knows more than the characters, I like it when the reason is that the characters are not privy to information or context that the reader knows, not because the characters are too stupid to pick up on incredibly obvious stuff. I don’t mean to call characters with cognitive disabilities stupid, as “intellectually disabled character fails to understand what’s going on” is a well-populated subgenre. (Which I also dislike.) I’m referring to non-disabled characters who are oblivious because they just are.

It's not that I think a child has to be stupid to be tricked by adults. Even a very bright child (or adult) could be fooled into thinking they're a miracle-worker by a clever con man. It's that the way it's written, from Gabriel's POV, makes him seem like a total idiot.

However, that’s not why I gave up on the book. The reason was the incredibly unpleasant emotional atmosphere: Gabriel smugly stupid, Garvey and the mason smugly awful, Lucie and his daughter sadly suffering (with a side of smugness, because they know the real deal.) I disliked the lot of them and did not want to be around any of them. Which is too bad, because I liked the backdrop of medieval Mystery players a lot.

The prose was good, but not good enough to make me keep reading. However, it won the Whitbread award, so my opinion may be very much in the minority.

A Little Lower Than the Angels
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

One of the things I really love about Diana Wynne Jones's books is that she does this well, the way that kids misjudge people and then have their eyes opened to the dangers of judging people based on their surface, the presents they give you, etc. In general, it's a theme I really like.

This just sounds clunky and unpleasant, though ...
lilacsigil: 12 Apostles rocks, text "Rock On" (12 Apostles)

From: [personal profile] lilacsigil

Yes, Diana Wynne Jones had great skill in these kind of perceptual differences - especially with bright but naive child characters. JK Rowling does it quite well, too, though usually with misdirection rather than misjudging.
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)

From: [personal profile] zeborah

I didn't mind A Little Lower Than the Angels too much when I first read it, possibly because I was young and it was short; but later I read Vainglory by her, which is a family saga in which each member of the family is progressively stupider and stupider and it was just so painful to read.

I think DWJ does it much better, it's just that after reading a certain number of her books it starts being a little predictable that the parents will be absent and the nice uncle will be the villain.
swan_tower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] swan_tower

On the other hand, she's also capable of writing really great family dynamics -- Power of Three is one of my favorites, and the parents there definitely play a role. Also Archer's Goon.
zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)

From: [personal profile] zeborah

I'll have to try (retry? Archer's Goon sounds vaguely familiar though I can't actually place it) those. I do sometimes wonder if I've just hit a statistically skewed sample of her works. :-)
swan_tower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] swan_tower

If you're looking for others with family very much present, The Magicians of Caprona and Dark Lord of Derkholm are both also worth a look. Probably others I'm not thinking of, too.
nenya_kanadka: Wonder Woman poster (kneeling with sword) (Default)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka

Completely off topic, but may I ask why New Zealand has a zebra? (icon) ? :D
zeborah: Map of New Zealand with a zebra salient (Default)

From: [personal profile] zeborah

About half my icons (and most of the ones I use to comment on other people's journals) have a zebra in them because that's how I pronounce my username -- er, not sure about your accent, but that's 'zebra' with 'e' as in 'bed' not 'bead'.

So combined with New Zealand and the red for Canterbury (specifically in response to our earthquakes as I'm not a sports fan) it's basically a statement of identity.
nenya_kanadka: astronaut on starfield (@ astronaut)

From: [personal profile] nenya_kanadka

Meant to reply earlier--that's very cool. :D
sovay: (Lord Peter Wimsey)

From: [personal profile] sovay

I’m afraid I did not like this at all.

On the bright side, its title got the song by Over the Rhine stuck in my head.

I think I may actually have read this book, years and years ago—Lucie and his daughter sound familiar to me, especially if they are dark and somehow non-English, or not entirely. I remember nothing about the plot (and I didn't recognize anyone's names), but if this is the book I'm thinking of, I liked the two of them; of course, I would.
Edited Date: 2017-06-19 09:51 pm (UTC)
muccamukk: Sinbad and Gunnar sitting together on the rail. Text: Shipmates. (Sinbad: Shipmates)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk

This mostly makes me wonder if you've seen the very odd film set in a middle-ages theatre company: Reckoning, which at very least has a decent amount of foe yay between Willem Defoe and Paul Bettany.
muccamukk: Delenn smiling slightly. Text: Faith Manages. (B5: Faith Manages)

From: [personal profile] muccamukk

Paul plays The Worst Priest Ever, who after self exile following murder joins a wandering theatre troupe led by Willem Defoe who is smol and angry and in Paul's personal space a lot. Anyway, together they solve crime and yell at each other and have FEELINGS about loyalty and art. Vincent Cassel plays the Norman ruler of the town they end up in.

Content note: child rape is discussed pretty graphically.

oursin: Brush the Wandering Hedgehog by the fire (Default)

From: [personal profile] oursin

Many years ago I read Rhoda Power's Redcap Runs Away (1952), though that was minstrels rather than players. Decades since I read it, no idea how it would hold up.

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