“Maximillian Reisman can stand on his head for thirty minutes if he wants to.”
The second installment of Jaclyn Moriarty‘s brilliant speculative The Colors of Madeleine trilogy, The Cracks in the Kingdom (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013), picks up right where A Corner of White left off, and if you have any intentions of reading this trilogy and haven’t read the first book, you may want to just leave this review and read something else. In Cello, Princess Ko is the only remaining member of the royal family, something that very few people know. Everyone else has been abducted into The World by Hostiles, locations unknown. Elliot is part of the Princess’s Royal Youth Alliance, a group of teens from various provinces within Cello pulled together to help Ko locate and rescue her missing family members before the kingdom realizes that she’s been running the whole kingdom herself. Elliot is a part of the RYA because of his highly illegal communication with Madeleine in The World via a crack between their two universes that has manifested in a parking meter in The World and a broken television in a sculpture in Cello. The two have been charged to not only exchange letters, but to try to figure out how to open the crack more, to create an opening between the worlds big enough for people to fit through so that, once the missing royals are located, they can actually be transported safely back to Cello.
I normally have a bit of trouble with hinge novels in trilogies, because it’s often difficult to judge the a story that is in the middle with an unknown end. However, I can assuredly say that even though this is a middle installment that is dependent on the first novel for its setup and the conclusion is still a big fat question mark, this book is outstanding in and of itself. It takes the already solid foundation established in A Corner of White, builds upon those themes and characters, ties together all the questions you didn’t even know you had, and then finishes with clear forward momentum towards the conclusion of the trilogy. It was one of those books that I closed and had to sit and reflect on my own readerly satisfaction for quite some time after I finished it.
Reading Jaclyn Moriarty feels like sinking into a steaming Jacuzzi while sipping a glass of bubbly. Her sense of playfulness, both in her world creation and her use of language, is emotionally contagious. If you don’t sit there contentedly smiling to yourself while reading her work then you are a cardboard cutout of a human and don’t have a heart the pumps blood.
The quest element is a perfect dual story, in which both Elliot and Madeleine are delving into understanding the natures of their outer realities and the ways in which those outer realities are connected to each other, while simultaneously using this crazy cross-universe quest to look at their own selves in relationship to the vast worlds that surround them. There’s a very existential lens to this particular flavor of speculative fiction that I absolutely love. I adored how, in both stories, there was a constant thread of observation on all the different parts that come together to make one person’s whole. I ALSO loved the further development of the theme of belief that continued from the first book; how believing the stories that we tell can change our understanding of ourselves and how we fit in the world. The constant mirroring of inner with outer quests, of how understanding existence is parallel to understanding self, is heavy shit rendered fun and readable by Moriarty’s light, lyrical touch.
The deepening of the relationship between Madeleine and Elliot towards love may seem like an obvious, forgone conclusion, but in Moriarty’s capable hands it feels true and subtle. It feels exactly like falling in love, and her ability to make you experience that process along with the characters is so perfectly rendered that I actually found myself having dreams about the act and process of falling in love the entire time I was reading the book. It’s pretty incredible. I couldn’t help but find it kind of cute that Madeleine and Elliot falling in love with each other via written communication across their worlds is basically exactly like two people falling in love over the internet, and that their first (spoiler alert!) full physical contact with each other is in a pitch black void between their worlds. The mental image of them clinging to each other in this empty void, of only being able to endure this completely black nothing because they are holding onto each other, stuck with me for a long, long time, perhaps because I found it to be so true: pushing forward into the unknowns of life is a hell of a lot more bearable when you’ve got a hand to hold.
I could go on and on about how amazing this book is but I think you get the idea. There were occasions when I had to pause and ask myself if it really seemed believable that a bunch of teens would really be entrusted to save a kingdom by tracking down its missing royal family, but then a) I had to remind myself that this is a teen novel and so of course the teens have to be the heroes, and b) Jaclyn Moriarty actually acknowledges how insane this is in a few subtle moments, so it’s all good. Other than that? I have no complaints. None. OK, so maybe the mechanics of how they eventually open the cracks were a bit beyond me, but I found that if I read it in the same way that you let your eyes go out of focus in order to see the hidden 3D image in a bunch of visual Magic Eye gobbledy-gook, it kind of made sense to me.
POINT BEING. This book, this series, is fanfuckingtastic. Why haven’t you read it yet? I mean it, WHY? Just ignore the horrible covers and do it. You will thank me.
For music I am continuing the Grimes theme, this time with “Crystal Ball.” The lyrics remind me a bit of that really beautiful moment when Madeleine are suspended in the void, hanging on to each other.
Where I got it: the library