Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Without Spells


Having read most of Alice Hoffman's teen books, I was expecting more magical realism. I persisted with the erroneous thought that something magical was going to happen at any moment for far, far too long. This is a story of the Inquisition. The Spanish Inquisition. In Incantation, Estrella is confident of her family's 500-year heritage in their Spanish village, but when her neighbors are arrested for being Jewish, she begins to question all that she's held true.

There are some absolutely ghastly scenes in this book. It's set in 1500 during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella about 20 years after the Catholic Monarchs set out to maintain religious and political unity. They weren't exactly... nice about it. This comes through in the text in some very painful sections. On the less bloody side, my favorite scene was with her grandfather. He had discounted Estrella, and the revelation of her intelligence and the connection forged between them because of it was touching. As well as amusing.

Months ago Justine Larbalestier related on her blog Margo Lanagan's (Black Juice) list of forbidden words. I bring this up simply because dear Madam Hoffman brought to light a word that, if I were to have such a list, would top it. That word is "sneaked." Poor Estrella was sneaking an understandable, but surprising amount. The book is only 166 pages long!

"It was nearly sunrise when we sneaked..." p 82.
"We had sneaked out..." p 114.
"I sneaked in at the last moment..." p 125.
"We sneaked into the doctor's stable" p 161.

It's a perfectly fine word. I know that. It just grates fiercely in my head when up against Hoffman's otherwise succinct but elegant prose. Couldn't Estrella have tiptoed, slipped, or crept? It's me, not her, but it jarred me out of the story every time. And so, "sneaked" is on my forbidden word list. That hypothetical list.

My favorite of Hoffman's is still Green Angel, but I've yet to read the adult titles, although I'm set on doing one of them for the adult book group...

Cybils Tally: 24/80

1 comment:

Mindy said...

I liked Incantation, but I also kept waiting for something magical to happen until well into the book. And I agree Green Angel is her best for YA's.