Holder of Lightning
A novel by S.L. Farrell
(pseudonym of Stephen Leigh)
DAW Books $29.95 (U.S.)
Irish by ancestry, here presents a cogent, well-written and somewhat downbeat
fantasy about an Ireland than never was. Subtitled "The Cloudmages #1,"
just so there is no doubt that this is the beginning of a series, HOLDER OF
LIGHTNING is the tale of Jenna Aoire, a peasant girl who finds what she at
first thinks is just a strange little green stone one night after a storm.
But it is far more than just a simple gem. It will transform her, often painfully,
into the most powerful magician of her age - against her will.
Aided and abetted
by unlikely (and occasionally non-human) friends, Jenna slowly learns to control
the powers invested in her by her ownership of a legendary gemstone of tremendous
power. Rather like Tolkien's One Ring, Jenna's stone is the Lámh Shábhála,
the master "cloch" stone that can control all others. All too soon,
her genial country-girl naiveté is stripped away and her life becomes
infinitely more complex and dangerous. Even as her power and understanding
grow, she learns to her sorrow that there is no one she can truly trust.
Jenna is an
appealing heroine, and Farrell is careful to keep the focus tightly on her,
so that we as readers learn the story even as Jenna does. He is also careful
to keep her sympathetic and human, so that the reader never loses empathy
with her. I don't want to give too much of the plot away partly because it
takes some interesting turns, and partly because Farrell's writing is delightfully
clear and transparent. Long-time readers of this column know that I am not
particularly disposed toward fantasy in general, but I must say that Jenna's
story captivated me from the opening pages.
and meticulously researched tale is occasionally rather violent, but the bloodshed
is never gratuitous. Farrell builds a complete world here, and it's silly
to think that a medieval world wouldn't be a harsh place in which to live.
I, for one, look forward to visiting it again from the comfort of my armchair.
The Triplets of Belleville
Film written and directed by Sylvain Chomet
With the voice talents of Jean-Paul Donda,
Michael Robin, and Monica Viegas
is certainly one of the funniest films I've ever seen, and that's saying
something when the subject is both French and animated. But from frame one
I couldn't tell what was going to happen next, which isn't something once
can say about most Disney offerings, for example. Also, the movie is simply
gorgeous at times, with outstanding character design and flat-out excellent
animation, better than anything I've seen out of America (lately) that isn't
The film opens
with a black-and-white sequence that turns out to be a broadcast of an archival
performance of the Triplets of Belleville, a sister act that was very popular
in the Thirties. Watching this are Champion, a young boy, and his grandmother.
Something, we know not what, has happened to Champion's parents and the old
lady is raising him. He has lost his zest for life, and she tries various
things to interest him. But it is only when she brings home a bicycle that
he finally begins to come alive.
some years. Champion is a muscle-thighed young man, and his loyal granny and
his overweight dog, Bruno, help him relentlessly train for the Tour de France,
the nationwide bicycle race. Upon entering the race, however, Champion, despite
his endurance and strength, finds himself a bit out of his league with the
pro cyclists. Soon he is running dead last. And that's when a mysterious van
shows up and begins kidnapping the stragglers of the race
of Belleville has some really clever sight (and sound!) gags, including
sly references to earlier animated films. Also, I'm very thankful I have just
enough knowledge of French to have caught a cute little throw-away pun about
Laughing Cow cheese. There is very little dialog in this movie, just a few
lines of French and a few of English - but it really doesn't need any, because
the story, whacky as it is, is perfectly transparent. We soon learn why Champion
has been kidnapped, and it's easy to understand his granny's zeal to rescue
him. She trails him to Beleville, Chomet's surrealistic take 1930's-1950's
New York City, where everyone is even fatter than Bruno
in vain for her grandson, but her luck changes one day when she accidentally
runs into - surprise! -- the Triplets. They are long in the tooth but still
performing. Although living in what can only be called reduced circumstances
they have cheerily adapted, and subsist on "game" from a nearby
swamp. Their method of securing the game has to be seen to be believed, and
would certainly cause Chuck Jones to blanch.
There is some
truly lovely blending of 2D and 3D animation in places, especially during
The movie is
doing respectable box-office here, so I can only hope that Chomet will be
given enough money to commit more of his lunacy to celluloid. I can't recommend
this film highly enough.
Film website worth a visit! No longer available in 2021. Instead, visit Wikipedia page for this film [JTC]).
Less Than Good
50 First Dates
I went to see this film with my daughter, not expecting much (Adam Sandler, after all) but it was actually a lot better than I had feared it would be. Drew Barrymore,
paired again with Sandler for the first time since his best film, The Wedding
Singer, does a creditable job and is nothing if not affecting and appealing.
Even Sandler reins in his usual gross-out humor (for the most part; but watch
out for the vomiting walrus) and comes across as a pretty decent guy. He's
a veterinarian in Hawaii and falls in love with Barrymore when he meets her
in a diner one day. But the movie then springs a big surprise -- and I am
so glad that I don't watch enough TV to have seen the previews that
reveal the surprise. You could do a lot worse than to take a first date to
see 50 First Dates. May the God of Reviewers wash my brain out with
soap for saying so.