Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Answering Review Request: "Gold Dust"
Catheraine Weaver asked me to read her novel "Gold Dust". It principally features a schoolgirl's attempt to basically save her mother's soul. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.
This story stars Alex Lee, a girl in California. She goes to school, visits her grandmother, and worries about her mom overworking herself. Combined with the Ordinary High School Student intro, it is a solidly characterizing but bland start. That goes away very soon and becomes something quite engaging.
Alex's initiation into the magical side of things is something both unusual and classic. She gives what she think is a common drunker a packet of manju. For this good deed she is rewarded with a truly magical wish. I'm more used to stories that start with the muggle protagonist getting caught in the middle of a supernatural fight. Then again, I watch a lot of fighting anime. Anyway, this is more fitting with the tone of this story.
It is fitting because of this world's Magical Underpinnings of Reality. The story's setting is based upon the idea of "Consensus Reality", that is, reality is composed by the thoughts of those living in it and those thoughts can change reality. This informs how magic works; anyone with the knowledge and skill can change physical reality or influence someone's mind through their deliberate thought and belief that it is so. This also informs the setting; there are two parallel worlds with two versions of California dating back to a time one thousand years previous. Passive but intense and perpetual worldwide belief severed the single world in two. Most directly, it informs the Evil Plan. Alex's mother unwittingly signed away her 'thought power' in "imaginative rights" to the new owner of her company. She must have confused it for "Intellectual Property". Ms.Weaver makes model use of her setting to shape her plot. There may be other "save both worlds" stories out there but Mis.Weaver's version of that template could only happen in her setting.
There's magic lessons for Alex to learn this sort of thing. She is bored by this despite great personal motive to pay attention. On one hand, I acknowledge that a boring teacher is a boring teacher even if they are teaching functional magic but on the other hand this was the only way to save her mother which is pretty pumped up about. Personally, I found the lessons to be quite interesting but I was one of the kids who liked going to class (with one or two exceptions).
The magic system is consistent which is definitely a plus. Making sure that Magic A is Magic A is a big deal for speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction together) in order to maintain tension and avoid story breakers.
It is also creatively used. Alex conjures things from localized rain storms to long range surveillance to the Jedi Mink Trick by playing the proper tune on her flute (magic wand analogy) with the right thoughts and feelings in mind.
There is an alternate history for the "Magical California" which includes an Amazon Queendom and a royal army of griffins, but is otherwise similar to "Non-magical California". In fact, there's this amusing little scene where Alex accidentally transforms her history book into one for the Magical California and she's able to give a summary of the homework assignment correctly by mentally editing out the magical parts.
"Gold Dust"; it's not much of a spoiler to say why that's the title and I find it an interesting bit of world building. You see, gold is the most magical material in the world. It amplifies magical power and is the easiest material to transform into something else. That's why it's valuable in the Magical World. The Non-Magical world just thinks that it holds its value because it is among the most stable of elements. That right there is the key difference between the two worlds; distinctly different and yet Not So Different.
It is a great example of organic plot escalation. Alex starts off wanting only to get her mom back to her normal self but as she travels and events unfold, she gets pulled into other things and bigger things. She meets people with other problems and they help each other to solve all of the other's problems as the situation escalates over time. It helps that all of them have a bone to pick with the same guy.
The Evil Plan of Herman Mendez starts out as some petty power grab by a corrupt corporate executive but there's a wham chapter. At that point it gets....scary; a lot more dangerous, a lot more far-reaching, and a lot more sinister. Think "1984" if that book were in the fantasy genre; yes, that kind of creepy.
There is a fitting ending for a first in a series; Sequel Hook. Today's crisis has been averted, the good guys accomplished their objectives and the Big Bad is beaten, but he'll be back. I like to think of Alex's last action in the story as a non-verbal Badass Boast.
If I had to point out any flaws in the story, it would be a difficult thing to do. The only one that comes to mind is Martin agreeing to a contract that clearly sounds like a scam and this contract is the backbone of the plot. However, greed has made people do stupid things before and this sort of behavior is mentioned early on so it is not really a flaw at all.
--> She is an Ordinary Highschool Student who starts her narrative by telling the reader that she is ordinary and not star material. Normally, I find this kind of "ordinary identification" to be annoying but not in this case. In this case, it is relevant because the feature of ordinary that has the most attention is her lack of imagination. As it happens, her mother is a fantastic creative artist and confidant woman, who stands as a foil for Alex, and imagination is literally power.
--> Mis. Weaver further uses this trope to show Alex's Heroic Self-Depreciation; she actually has a strong and quick imagination and this is shown by her seamless and extended lies/excuses/story making early in the narrative.
--> I find Alex to be a realistic take on a school age hero (not protagonist; there's a difference although she is both in this case). Just the initial goal of getting into her mother's secured office and talking with her has the girl feeling nervous and overwhelmed much less the much bigger, more complicated, and more dangerous missions with higher stake goals that come after that. Yes, she gets scared, and yes, she panics but she soldiers on anyway (with a little advise remembered from her wise Buddhist grandmother). She thinks well on her feet, when she has confidence enough to do so. She also has a lot of help and not just from other kids or animal side icks but from adults as well.
Speaking of the adult characters, it's nice to see a story where the adults are helpful, and more importantly, reasonable. For instance, when Alex is trying to explain to her mom about the magical stuff going on, she is initially disbelieved until she does a bit of magic in front of her. After that not only does her mom believe her but she can do magic too and because of her greater confidence and imagination, do it a lot better than Alex. She is not the only adult this happens too.
Ian is a Determinator. That is his core trait. To find his missing cousin he spent two weeks hiding in a giant corporate compound dodging security guards. Another big character trait is his habit of falling for "impossible girls" which leads to distraction during the thought-control based magic lesson and occasionally later. It is both an amusing running gag and an age appropriate character flaw.
Celeste is quite the plucky girl considering her initial situation and what follows. She is also quite skilled with magic and can use it after informal lessons and only needs to sing; no magic wand required. She quickly makes friends with Alex and the two perform combination spells that are fun to imagine. Part of the humor in her character and powers is that she is a Beastmaster whom circumstances force to travel in a wedding dress; thus, the Disney Princess jokes.
Herman Mendez is the Big Bad. He's a Corrupt Corporate Executive, a Control Freak, a con artist, a kidnapper and likely also a pedophile. Yeah, he's a nasty piece of work. He's also Faux Evilly Affable which makes him more detestable, in my opinion, than if he were a Card Carrying Villain. He has little screen time but it is enough to demonstrate that he really is as bad as people say he is. There is no Informed Villainy here. He appears to be a Non-Action Big Bad which would fit with the other parts of his character that are present; hire thugs to get their hands dirty for him.
The story is told in the first person. I did not find this to be intrusive except at two points. It's mostly used to show how frazzled Alex feels at basically every point in this book, yet still moving on.
I didn't' see any spelling or grammar problems.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "Gold Dust" by Catharine Weaver an A+
Click here for the next review request: Willakaville
Click here for the previous review request: Crik
Click here for the review for the sequel to Gold Dust: Phoenix Down
Brian Wilkerson is a independent novelist, freelance book reviewer, and writing advice blogger. He studied at the University of Minnesota and came away with bachelor degrees in English Literature and History (Classical Mediterranean Period concentration).