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The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin Paperback – September, 2013
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About the Author
L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the YA fantasy series: The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Daughter series: Prospero Lost, Prospero In Hell, and Prospero Regained. She has published numerous articles on Japanese animation and appears in several short story anthologies, including Best Of Dreams Of Decadence, No Longer Dreams, Coliseum Morpheuon, Bad-Ass Faeries Anthologies (where she is also an assistant editor) and the Science Fiction Book Club’s Don’t Open This Book. When not writing, she switches to her secret identity as wife and stay-home mom in Centreville, VA, where she lives with her dashing husband, author John C. Wright, and their four darling children, Orville, Ping-Ping Eve, Roland Wilbur, and Justinian Oberon. Her website is: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/ Her blog is at: http://arhyalon.livejournal.com/ On Twitter: @lampwright4 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Rachel Griffin is the youngest of her siblings to attend the Roanoke Academy of Magical Arts, hidden from the magically “Unwary” on the upper Hudson River. If she has a superpower, it’s a photographic and eidetic memory. This will cause her to see things out of the corner of her eye that others miss, and remember it and be intrigued. She can see through the spells of others with a twist of her phenomenal memory, but what does it all mean? She’s not just missing parts of the mysteries because there are more clues to unfold, she is handicapped by being only 13 years old – a time when much of life is a mystery.
The characters are great, the piled up mysteries pull you along, and while the story arc for this book comes to a satisfying conclusion, you’ll want more and more is hinted at. The message of the doom-of-worlds raven and the mysterious statue with the disappearing wings seem placed to be handled by a wider story arc for the whole series. Get this for a young person in your life, but don’t be shocked if you get hooked on it, too.
The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the first book in what is intended to be a fairly extensive Unexpected Enlightenment series. Following the current practice of listing the ingredients in the stew, let's go surreal: In a Harry Potter style universe, Narnia meets the Matrix. No, really. The wizarding school aspect is clear on page 1, while the everything is not what it seems, in both the existence of other worlds (Narnia) and the everything you know is a lie (Matrix) is only glimpsed and hinted at in this first volume.
As in the Potter-verse, wizards use spells to shield their activities and very existence from the mundane. In such a world, what keeps wizards from blinding each other? What keeps the most powerful from keeping the true nature of the world (or worlds, as the case may be) from those they seek to control? If so, how would a victim of such deceit become aware of it and make their way free of it? Very grown-up issues, but not told in a way too overwhelming for younger readers.
Rachel Griffin is the youngest daughter of a large, ancient and noble wizarding family. She starts life with all the advantages: loving family, wealth, connections, looks (although she's only occasionally aware of how cute she is in a barely pubescent 13-year old girl way). Plus, she's sharp, has a photographic memory, and is a kind and polite (civilized!) young woman. So - the anti-Harry Potter in origin. The rags to riches role is given to a couple of her friends.
She's also precocious, starting Roanoke Academy a year early. Lamplighter is first of all spinning an adventure yarn, but is also exploring how the world looks to a well-bred, well-loved young woman entering the boyfriend/girlfriend arena, what goes on both good and bad, what sort of temptations a girl her age goes through, and how good and bad choices are made. Of this, the real drama in most young girls lives is made, and what they see around them is largely horror and ruin portrayed as 'normal'. As a father of daughters, it is heartening to see such issues treated appropriately in an engaging piece of fictions. Girls can grow into women without caving to a out of control, narcissistic world.
Don't get the impression that the story and action suffer from too much girly digression - not so. The author does a great job of simply acknowledging what Rachel is going through and following her thought process as she ponders her relationships - one of which is the attentions of a very attractive (and very well-behaved) older boy.
But that's getting ahead. The adventures and mysteries start on page 1, when Rachel awakens from her first night at Roanoke Academy, and never stop. She awakens to overhear two animals - a tiny lion familiar and a huge red-eyed raven - talking about something that makes no sense to her. She then takes a broom flight around the grounds - she's an elite flyer - and sees the statue of an angel, something she has no word to name and has never seen before in her life. She runs afoul of some crass girls, give a famous boy a ride on her broom, spots an impostor pretending to be a wizarding police officer, and helps save a girl's life. All this before breakfast. Action hardly lets up. And this first book only covers the first week or two of Rachel's first year!
Rachel, tiny, young, precocious, shy and and inexperienced, wants to make friends. She has poor luck at first, then finds Siggy, an over-the-top, dragon-owning orphan boy, and Nastasia, a prim princess, as her besties, and a circle of other remarkable friends. They are all trying, in addition to learning to be witches and wizards, to make the treacherous journey from children to adults.
In this first book, mysteries are introduced and deepened - a little - but not resolved. There are two more books out already, and many more on the way, so this is to be expected.
As a man pushing 60, I'm hardly the target audience for the Rachel books, except in the sense where good fiction should work anyway (Narnia and Have Space Suit, Will Travel are among my favorite books - because they're great, regardless of what age the target audience was). And I never made it past about book 3 in Harry Potter - not my cup of tea. Yet, these stories work for me.
I've read the next two installments as well, The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel and Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, and found them also good and engaging, and plan to read the additional volumes as they come out. Will review as time permits.
On to why I enjoyed the book:
Even as an adult, I like well written YA Fantasy adventures. This is a fun adventure in a new literary world. The story is both frivolous and meaty. It is an effortless read without lacking in narrative style or beautiful language. If you enjoy the classic juvenile fantasy of half a century ago, _The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin_ will read like the first breath of warm air after a very long winter.
The world and history around Roanoke Academy are rich, vivid and thoroughly developed. There is no question that this magic school exists in the context of a whole world. The story begins by hinting and then showing that the school, as safe and secluded as it may be, is not immune to the happenings of the world beyond its wards.
Rachel and her classmates are vibrant, endearing, and vexing. The characters are so sympathetic and real that you cannot help but care and feel about them, even the ones that are meant to be annoying. Girls will certainly enjoy the emotional insights that Rachel explores as she enters this new stage of growing up. It is very easy to identify with her, even if you are lucky enough not to have ever had her problems. The story strikes a pleasant balance of internal and external drama so that those that just want the adventure will not feel left behind.
The magic and adventurous antics within the story are as thoughtfully structured as the world and characters. The culture and classes of this magic school reflect what can be done with the varied and intricate ways that spells can be performed. The reader comes to understand very quickly that it is no easy feat to become a great sorcerer. The magic certainly spills outside of the classroom and we see what kind of havoc magically talented youths can cause.
This is a very fun read and I am very glad that there will be more adventures in Roanoke Academy in the future.