Jeanette Winterson’s writing is magical. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit? Boating for Beginners? Weight? Swoon. Though she sometimes loses me in abstraction, I can love even my least favorite of her books for the individual beautiful sentences that populate their forests. So I assumed that The Battle of the Sun, her 2009 stab at a young adult novel, would be fucking amazing. Magical writing plus actual magic in a genre I love? Yes please.
But I found myself disappointed. Though there was plenty of magic in the tale itself (dragons, alchemists, sorcerers, and time travel), her signature style was absent. While the story occasionally gripped me, more often it felt choppy, lacking a continuity and a cohesive internal logic that would have made the world feel real enough to touch and the story inevitable. The way that a spot-on young adult fantasy book usually does.
While the magical elements also lacked originality (exploited orphans, evil alchemists who want to turn everything to gold, kids kicking the adults’ asses, riddle-speaking dragons fought by knights), the point of the story was quite nice, as far as points go. Gold makes people greedy and nuts, but what good is gold when you have nothing to eat? This humanness as it plays out in the story breaks down barriers of class, which adult writers should be showing younger adults often before sending them out into the work-a-day world. The other point, however, which boils down to “love conquers all,” may be a nice way to look at the world, but I’ve seen it done better. Hell, even J.K. Rowling played that tune in a way that I found more engaging. Sorry, Jeanette Winterson, this one isn’t going on my favorites list after all.
Buy this book if you are obsessed with Jeanette Winterson and want to look at her collected works nestled together on your shelf, but stick to borrowing it if you’re just curious. Despite its pitfalls, it was a pleasant read, and there are some interesting fantastical elements. The question for me remains: having read The Battle of the Sun and barely enjoyed it, do I still give Tanglewreck (a young adult novel with some of the same characters) a go?
Two out of six dying suns.
Where I got it: Borrowed, epub