Saturday, May 23, 2015

Review: Mockingbird by Sean Stewart

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart
Published: Small Beer Press, 2005
Awards Nominated: Locus Fantasy, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards

The Book:
“Toni Beauchamp never liked her mother's world of magic and visions and six strange gods that took over her body at will. So when her mother died, Toni and her sister Candy thought it meant a new beginning, a life free of magic. But Elena had one last gift for her daughter - a sip from the Mockingbird Cordial. And from the moment Toni held the drink to her lips, her life would never be the same…”

This is the second book I’ve read by Sean Stewart, and I bought it at the same time as Galveston. Both books are fantasies set in Texas, but I had a really hard time with Galveston’s unlikeable protagonists.  I’m happy I gave Stewart’s work another shot, though, because I enjoyed Mockingbird.

My Thoughts:

Mockingbird is a story primarily about familial relationships between women, identity, and coping with the unexpected.  The Beauchamp family was affected by the everyday presence of magic, but I think they were more significantly influenced by their relationships to one another.  For example, Toni disliked the magic because it made her mother an unreliable parent. Toni never knew, when she came home, whether she would be interacting with her mother or with one of the spirits whose fetishes her mother kept in a cupboard.  Toni and her little sister Candy learned from experience which of the personalities would be kind, and which were cruel or abusive.  Their close, dysfunctional family shaped both Toni and Candy’s lives, but in different ways, and it was interesting to see them come to terms with each other as the adults they have become.

While the story has its share of dramatic twists and turns, the focus is always more on the characters and their connections to one another.  Rather than an adventure that has a set beginning and end, this is the story of a specific period in Toni’s life, a time where she struggles to define her chosen identity and path. Toni initially tries to define herself through contrast to her mother--she has a stable job as an actuary, a reliable, self-sufficient personality, and can even take reproduction into her own hands.  The truth is, though, that no one can plan and execute their life with perfect control. Toni’s first curveball is her inheritance of her mother’s magic, but it is by no means the last unwelcome twist in her life.  In a way, it is a kind of a 30-something maturation story, and I enjoyed following Toni as she struggled to find the shape of her future life.

The magic is very naturally woven into the lives of the characters, and I would say this is more of a family drama than a fantasy.  I felt like the it mostly served the story by providing symbols and emphasis to specific events in this part of Toni’s life.  The novel is pretty slow-paced, as well, so I think the plot might risk feeling a little aimless if one is not invested in the characters. Altogether, it’s not the usual style of novel I read, but I enjoyed the change of pace.  Thus far, this is my favorite of Sean Stewart’s novels, and I can see why it received award nominations.  

My Rating: 3.5/5

Mockingbird is more of a character-driven story of female relationships and identity than a fantasy, though magic does play a seemingly natural role in the characters’ lives.  It is a slow-paced novel that follows Toni Beauchamp’s life in the wake of her mother’s death, as she passes through the journey “from being a daughter to having one”. Toni plans for her future to be organized and stable, in contrast to her mother’s magic and unreliability, but life has other plans.  I think the novel relies heavily on a reader’s investment in the characters, and I was very easily emotionally invested in Toni.  This is not my usual style of novel, but I’m glad I decided to read it.

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