Anatopsis by Chris Abouzeid
The Plot: Anatopsis (Ana) is next in line to take over the family business, Amalgamated Witchcraft Corporation. Ana, like her mother, Queen Solomon, is a witch and immortal; mortal humans are workers for the ruling class; workers like Clarissa, Ana's servant who is also Ana's best friend. Ana enjoys making mischief with her magic, trying to not get in too much trouble with her mother, especially since her mother is more concerned with the family business than her child, and getting the attention of her father, Sir Christopher, a knight errant.
Ana finds out that important exams are approaching for her 14th birthday; and for some reason, she must study with Prince Barnaby, the son of her mother's business rival. All Ana cares about is teasing Barnaby; and since Barnaby is the worst witch ever, it's fairly easy to do this. But there's more to the test than her mother has told her; more to Clarissa and humans than Ana can guess; and more at stake than who which business company will end up on top.
The Good: Ana's world is ours, hundreds and thousands of years in the future, where gods are real, but they lived in the past. They left behind a heritage of immortals who can use magic (Ana and her family) and mortals who are second class citizens, barely viewed as human (Clarissa). While Ana believes Clarissa to be her best friend, Ana also shows little understanding of this divide and what it means. Ana is privileged without knowing she is, and without realizing that means she has prejudices. If asked, Ana, comparing herself to her mother or others of her class, would say, no, she's not prejudice against humans. But as Abouzeid shows but doesn't tell, Ana has as many preconceptions and misconceptions about humans and mortals as any immortal.
Anatopsis is humorous, especially in how it uses business and business politics as the backdrop to magical battles. It also has serious undertones, addressing issues such as politics, ecology, the haves and have nots, the mistreatment of the powerless...and what the powerless are willing to do to strike back. All of these weave seamlessly into the story, with nary an anvil or brick to be found.*
I adored Clarissa. Powerless, both as a servant and as a non-magical person. She may get turned into a frog or put into a dungeon at any moment; but she doesn't let that hold her back.
While the main story of the book ended, there are unanswered questions and a couple possibilities for a sequel. However, the book is complete in itself; none of frustrating cliffhanger stuff!
*Meaning, while it is shown that using magic creates waste, and that waste has damaged the environment to such an extent that the Earth is almost uninhabitable, at no point did I feel that I was being hit with the anvil or brick of a Message. I never felt as if Abouzeid said, "I must write a book about how we are mistreating the planet and why people become terrorists" and that this is the result". It's there; but not THERE. In other words, the story is what is important.
Links: Interview at Bildungsroman/Little Willow; The Edge of the Forest interview; Chris (the author) responds to the Bookshelves of Doom review.
I so wanted Clarissa to come into her own and get her own tale.
I found myself liking Clarissa much more than Ana; but that is also because I tend to like the underdog, and am usually quite hard on the "poor rich kid" characters (a dislike going back to Holden Caulfield.) That said, I liked Ana very much (I don't dislike all poor rich kids; I just tend to be a bit hard on them, they have to earn my sympathy a bit more than poor poor kids, like Clarissa.)
Hi Liz B.,
Thanks for the nice review! It's always good to hear some kind words from the serious readers on the blogosphere. And I'm especially glad to hear you liked Clarissa, since it took me about 6 full rewrites to get her character right.
Thanks again, and keep up the good work.
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