reviews

Reviews: Clariel | Jupiter Ascending | Frozen

Clariel and Jupiter Ascending share some superficial similarities: both feature a young female protagonist forced into the world of politics because other people want to use her as a pawn (or kill her, when is more convenient), with a backdrop of an alien, decadent society; one story features magic, the other technology that's so advanced it might as well be magic; both include some major fight scenes and a number of fish-out-of-water moments. However, the stories being told go in two completely different directions, and I would argue that only one of them is truly worth revisiting.

Jupiter Ascending is (let's be honest) a pretty basic, paint-by-number blockbuster story: girl spends her life feeling like she doesn't belong in her menial job, finds out she is indeed destined for bigger things, has to navigate attempted assassinations/manipulation by those seeking to use her as a pawn, goes through the predictable cycle of 'Can I trust him? No, turns out he's just in it for himself. Oh wait, he was lying when he said it was just another job to him", and eventually winds up back at her menial job, but having gained a new appreciation for what she has (and also a [spoiler]wolf-hybrid boyfriend with grafted wings and flying boots). With some pretty sci-fi scenery and flashy fight scenes that seem to go on forever. It's done well enough, and the story's not exactly a bad one (there's a reason it keep getting rehashed over and over), but there's not much underneath the surface. What you see is pretty much all there is--at least, once the credits started rolling I couldn't think of a single reason to watch it ever again.

Clariel, on the other hand, is very much not a paint-by-number story--at least, not until you realize it's essentially [spoiler]a Greek tragedy. Then it becomes kind of painful, because you can see the end coming, and you really don't want it to go there. Part of what makes it so moving is that her strengths are also her weaknesses, so that what serves her well in one situation winds up bringing her near to ruin in another--all in an internally consistent and coherent way. (In contrast, Jupiter doesn't really have strengths or weaknesses--at least, none that I could name. Except for her desire to buy a telescope in memory of her dead father and some fairly generic tensions with her immigrant family, she's nearly a blank slate.) Throughout the books she's presented with a series of opposing options--city vs. country, self-sacrifice vs. self-service, indulgence vs. self-discipline, external expectations vs. internal motivations, faith in others vs. utter self-reliance, etc.--and each choice that she makes leads to the next choice, consequence built on consequence. And what I was greatly impressed by what that one of the underlying messages of the story seems to be that a person's motivation may mitigate their actions, but does not absolve them. External factors, family environment, and innate aptitudes all affect how someone makes decisions, but do not relieve that person of responsibility for the outcomes of their choices. And those choices, no matter how small and petty they may seem at the time, can prove to have very large consequences in the long run. All in the form of a well-told, engaging story, set in a world that I find more fascinating every time I visit it.

So, yeah--not exactly an easy or comfortable read (though not because of the prose--Garth Nix is an excellent writer), but definitely worth an afternoon or two of your time.

Also, finally managed to watch Frozen, after three failed attempts over the past year or so. Pretty good movie, but I liked Tangled better.