Monthly Archives: February 2013

St Mallory’s Forever! — A (fairly spoiler-free) Review

I don’t expect I’ll ever be a published author: I enjoy writing, but I don’t take it quite that seriously — I just write stories for fun. But I love to hear about fellow teenagers getting published. As soon as St Mallory’s Forever! came out, I rushed out (or rather, turned on my Kindle) and bought the book. I was not disappointed. Christopher Paolini is the only other teen-author whose published books I’ve read, but while it is very difficult to compare St. Mallory’s Forever! with the Inheritance Cycle, given that they are such different genres, Charley Robson and Miriam Joy join Paolini as inspiring teens.

St. Mallory’s Forever! is written by Charley Robson (17 years old), Miriam Joy (16 years old?) and Saffina Desforges (Who I’m not too sure about — I think she is actually a partnership: two people. And I don’t think either of them are teenagers.). It strikes me as incredible that a novel could be co-authored. I mean, a biography, maybe, but in a novel surely everyone would have different ideas as to where the story should go? Nevertheless, the plot was remarkably coherent and differences in writing style were managed by the fact that the story alternates between the points of view different people. Here is a fairly spoiler-free summary of the story:

It’s the start of a new term at St. Mallory’s, a boarding school where rather posh families send their girls to be educated. Abbie and Teresa are returning, and there will be two new students in their grade this year — whose names are rumoured to be Helen and Zoo-Anne. After a few relational mishaps, Helen and Zoo-Anne (whose name turns out to be Xuan — pronounced “shin”) become good friends with Abbie and Teresa. At first it seems like it’s going to be a fairly normal school-term: studying hard on weekdays and shopping in Brighton on weekends (and hopefully avoiding the nudist beach). But after some strange events — which include a bursar gawking at Helen’s teacher mother during classes, and a music piece dated after its composer died — it becomes clear that a mystery is underfoot…

So there we have it: a classic boarding-school novel. If you’ve read Enid Blyton it might put you in mind of Malory Towers or St Clare’s. (Or it might not. I’ve read Enid Blyton, and I’d never heard of either series until two weeks ago. She’s only the most prolific British author in history.) But while in many ways it’s a classic boarding-school novel, this book differs from others of its genre in that it is thoroughly modern. It is (I believe) a very accurate depiction of a 21st century boarding school, perhaps minus the mystery. And the story is told in blog-posts.

This gives a whole new twist to the old journal-style novel genre — and not just because the entries have a special name. For one thing, blog-posts are written to be entertaining. (and let me tell you: Abbie, Helen and Xuan are a lot more entertaining than me) Journal entries can get dry and boring, but these blog-posts are delightfully funny and interactive with the reader. For another thing, a journal entry usually happens once a day, but a blog-post happens every time something interesting happens.

Another thing that was interesting about reading such a modern novel is that I understood most of the references. Rather than references to ancient bands or ancient politicians or Walter Cronkite, this has references to people like Usain Bolt and Harry Potter, products like iPads, and places like Heathrow airport. Even the older references are to things like The Lord of the Rings and Pride and Prejudice that I know about. I guess these must be past things that the current generation thinks are important, rather than past things that past generations thought were important.

St Mallory’s Forever! is a mystery novel, so naturally I should discuss what I thought of the mystery element. It seemed to take a while for the mystery to kick into gear, but I didn’t really mind because I was quite amused up to that point by all the goings on at St Mallory’s, which are told very humorously. The unfolding of the plot did seem to slow down again a couple of times in the middle of the novel, but once again the good narration made fairly light of this. Around 70% of the way through I did think “enough with digressions and interrupting yourself, get on with the mystery!” a couple of times, but it really picked up at about 80%. The mystery itself was, I think, well planned, and the clues and red-herrings well laid, although in the end it was not an overwhelmingly complicated mystery — just complicated enough to make a good story. I suppose you don’t want to go overboard in your debut novel (a mistake Paolini made), but once the authors gain experience in this genre their plots will surely get more complex.

I thought the character development of Helen in particular was good in this novel. All the way through she is a well-written character with realistic strengths and weaknesses, and she goes from being an often bad-tempered girl who just wants to live in London — and wants to hate St. Mallory’s — to becoming some one who says— well… I won’t spoil it for you. Also, even though she came across as a bit of an uncultured city kid, she quotes The Lord of the Rings, which automatically makes someone awesome.

The other characters are good too, but Helen is probably the best. I thought it was strange how Xuan, for whom English was a fifth language, knew so many English idioms — maybe the Brits just use so many more idioms than the rest of us that you can’t help but pick them. I did think it was pretty funny how she points out so many quirks of the English language. (“why do people say ‘pretty’, which usually means ‘beautiful’, when they mean to say ‘quite’?”)

From the way it finished, I couldn’t tell if St. Mallory’s Forever! is meant to have sequels or not. It doesn’t exactly promise them, but it certainly leaves the door wide open. I suppose that’s the way to do it, really.

So all in all, St. Mallory’s Forever! is some pretty enjoyable light reading (though not so light that it didn’t have me looking up words in the Kindle dictionary pretty often!) and I would recommend that you give it ago, especially if you like a light-hearted mystery. It would probably appeal to girls more than guys, but I’m a guy and I read it, so its certainly not gender exclusive. It would probably appeal to people most between the ages of about 12 and 17, but don’t be exclusive about that either. It only costs 3 bucks in the Kindle store (not available in print yet), so it would be a good way to liven a dull weekend. (actually, it was longer than I was expecting — though why I was expecting a short book, being familiar with Paolini, I don’t know) But I digress. Give St. Mal’s a go!

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The Shine On Award

The Shine On Award Badge

 

Well, well, well, who would have thought I was so interesting? I have been the recipient of a second blog-award! The most generous benefactor of this prize was Nevillegirl (there was no least generous benefactor today), whose wonderful blog you should be able to find by clicking on the link. She actually nominated me several days ago, but I have had a terrible time trying to connect to the WordPress server of late — that and I’ve had a  lot of schoolwork — so that’s why I haven’t posted until now.

Like most awards this one has several rules (they’re terribly legalistic…), and I must post them here.

Rules:

(1) Link back to the blogger who nominated you.

(2) Post the badge on your blog.

(3) Answer the questions posed to you.

(4) Nominate five bloggers who shine a little light in your day and be sure to notify them.

(5) Issue ten questions you’d like them to answer.

Rules one and two ticked off, I’ll commence with answering the ten questions.

(1) What do your shoes look like? Well the shoes I wear most of the time are imitation Havannas thongs, a size too big for my feet. Before I started wearing these I had a pair of the mass-produced featureless fits-all-feet $2 thongs, but someone took one of them by mistake and left one of theirs — which were too small and even dirtier than mine. Suffice to say, I upgraded to the imitation Havannas.

(2) What’s the strangest thing you’ve heard someone say lately? That’s a difficult question. Perhaps my sister, just an hour ago, who said “I didn’t know ‘excusez moi’ was French!” — to which my Mum said, “Is it really!?”. However I shouldn’t make fun of them because they are much better at languages than I am.

(3) What’s the strangest thing you’ve said lately? That’s also a difficult question, but perhaps this: “When you’re exhausted, it’s amazing how refreshing a good run can be.”

(4) What is your current computer wallpaper? Boringly, it’s the default desktop picture for Mac OS X Lion — but it’s a really nice picture. It’s of the Andromeda Galaxy.

(5) What do you remember about your very first day of school? Alas I remember nothing of it…

(6) Who is your favo[u]rite character — that you’ve created? Simlon the Explorer. He comes into my first two novels, but though I really like him and he’s an amazing guy with a cool background, he’s a bit of a mystery in the story and quite irrelevant. A bit of a Tom Bombadil.

(7) What would be your survival strategy in the Hunger Games? That is a difficult question. (is that response getting clichéd by now?) I utterly loathe the idea of a Hunger Games and would be mortally terrified of entering one. Knowing me, I would probably spend the whole time running from everyone else and hiding. In the end I would probably get killed by Tracker Jackers or mutts. Or maybe an arrow.

(8) What song are you listening to right now? Confession time. I rarely listen to music while I write. But I thought it would be interesting to listen to music while I write this post, on shuffle, to see what I’d get up to by this question. Currently it’s In A Little While”, by U2.

(9) What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read? Hmm… it’s hard to say, but The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie was scary in a unique way — it wasn’t very intense at all, but I was quite shaken when I figured out who the murderer was. It didn’t help that I was reading in bed.

(10) What’s behind you? If I moved out of the line of sight of the computer camera and took a photo, I would have a near-perfect replica of my Gravatar. That’s what’s behind me.

Now I ask ten questions:

(1) What is the most recent book you’ve read that you really liked?

(2) What was the most recent song you’ve heard that you really liked?

(3) What was the most recent film you’ve watched that you really liked?

(4) What was the first (imaginary) world that you created?

(5) What is your favourite genre to write?

(6) Excluding people you know personally, who are some of your heroes?

(7) Which do you value more, your hearing or sight (would you rather not be blind or not be deaf)?

(8) Do you rather a hot climate or a cold climate?

(9) Would you rather spend an afternoon playing boardgames or sport?

(10) Do you like Maths?

Finally time to nominate my five people.

Here, I am afraid, I am about to break the rules. There are only two blogs that I often comment on, and the author of one has given me the award. As such there will be only one nominee today, and he is Liam, Head Phil. Now of course Liam doesn’t like awards very much, and since he is posting less regularly now he probably won’t want to use up one of his posts on an award. Nevertheless, it is here for him if he wants it, and if he doesn’t want the bother of answering questions and nominating people — that’s fine. I think it’s a particularly relevant award for him, since he is posting less often now and we all want him to keep on shining from time to time (which he has been, fortunately).

Anyway, thank you all, and goodnight.