Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace
The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace
Touchstone Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) - Fiction that's really hard to classify: a little historical, a little paranormal, a lot brilliant
Source: Touchstone Books
Warning: Gushy love forthcoming
What The Kings and Queens of Roam is about (in my words):
Helen and Rachel McAllister live in a dying town established by their ancestor, a devious man who built his home and his fortune by kidnapping a Chinese man and stealing his secret. After the death of their parents, Helen is charged with taking care of her younger sister, Rachel. Helen is the ugly sister and her temperament matches her looks. Rachel is blind, innocent and a stunning beauty. But, Helen tells Rachel stories that make her fearful and just a bit sad. Rachel, Helen is convinced, could never live on her own. But, she's bitter at what she perceives as the loss of her own independence. Even as Helen convinces Rachel that the world is dangerous and she could never survive alone, she makes it nearly impossible for Rachel to develop the strength to forge her own path.
Then, one day Helen leaves for a short time and everything changes. When Rachel decides to take her chances, what will happen to the two sisters and their fading world?
The Kings and Queens of Roam moves between the past and maybe-not-quite-present, describing the heartless ancestor who cursed his line by choosing greed rather than kindness and the two young women upon whom his legacy has fallen.
Why a blurb can't possibly describe the magic:
There is much more to Daniel Wallace's writing than a boilerplate description of The Kings and Queens of Roam will allow. It is absolutely magical. While the book is partly about a sisterly relationship, partly about their greedy ancestor, it's also about a string of tragedies and how we choose darkness or light. It's the most bizarrely wonderful story of tragedy and hope. There are ghosts walking around and a magical river that may or may not cure people or mice of various ills. When Helen and Rachel's parents' death is described, it's so strange it's almost humorous. "Tall tales and folklore" is a part of the cover flap description. Yes, I'll buy that. It reads very much like folklore with a dash of fairy tale. There are no dates (so I found myself placing the more modern portion of the story in the 50s or 60s, 'though I can't say if I'm anywhere close) and no concrete geographical links. You know you're in a world apart.
What I loved about The Kings and Queens of Roam:
I loved the experience of escaping into Daniel Wallace's strange and magical story as much as the story itself. The reason I took a photo of the book lying face-down on my bed has to do with the fact that I was so in love, so immersed in the story that I wanted to take the book's portrait. And, the only way I could set it down was in a manner that left it remaining open. I couldn't even bear to put a bookmark in The Kings and Queens of Roam. When I photographed it, I had to do something necessary -- I don't know, maybe move a load of laundry or make a meal? Something you can't get out of doing.
What I disliked about The Kings and Queens of Roam:
Nothing. I never knew exactly where the author was taking me and that's a good thing. I like to be surprised. I don't mind being able to figure out an ending in advance if the entire book is not so transparent as to end up being dull, but to keep drawing in a reader and surprising him, over and over, is a rare and wondrous thing. "Rare and wondrous" are actually excellent descriptors for The Kings and Queens of Roam.
See, I told you gushy love was coming.
This is my first Daniel Wallace book. I actually have a copy of Big Fish, but I've never read it. I plan to do some digging, in the coming weeks. You know we moved in September of 2012? Still haven't unloaded all the books. Nowhere near.
The bottom line:
Highly, enthusiastically recommended - Exceptional writing and storytelling: a tale of darkness and light, tragedy and hope and how far we will go for those we deeply love. A rare and wondrous gem, magical and immersive, brilliant and beautiful.
A friend asked me if The Kings and Queens of Roam is a children's book because of its cover (which also should get a large dollop of adoration because it's lovely, whimsical and relevant to the story) and the answer is "no". The Kings and Queens of Roam is very much an grown-up fable, but it's certainly not one that I would advise anyone to hide from the kids.
I also took this while I was in the midst of reading TKaQoR:
Both kitties were my reading buddies, that day. Fiona was sprawled on the floor, Isabel curled up on her favorite blanket beside me, much of the afternoon. Not much else but reading was accomplished, once I opened up the book. It's definitely a new favorite.
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