Despite it being a year where I’ve gone out less and stayed home more than any other year, I’m pretty far behind on this year’s Goodreads goal of 35 books. About half of what I’ve read this year can be chalked up to Book Group Thing, my extremely technical name for the Hillsdaleian discussion group that has a video chat each month.
Normally I’m the last one finished, and have no time to spare for sharing my thoughts. But this month’s book, Another Kingdom, by Andrew Klavan, went quickly enough and prompted enough musings that I figured I’d collect them. Spoilers ahead, if you fear that sort of thing.
The premise of Another Kingdom is that Austin Lively, would-be scriptwriter in LA and actual script analyst, gets transported into another world by virtue of having read a certain book. This transport happens when he passes through doorways, though not all doorways. It somewhat resembles the Narnian wardrobe in its unexpectedness.
Austin’s in danger in the world-through-the-book (Galiana) as well as in the ‘real’ world of LA; in Galiana, he’s accused of murder and nearly subjected to torture and execution, while in LA, he’s being pursued by a couple mysterious baddies. He is just barely able to avoid being killed by virtue of switching worlds; he’s bathed and rested there, sewn up in a hospital here, rescued by magic there, and taught by YouTubes about swordfighting here.
As it continues, the storyline grows more coherent: Austin’s disinterested family turns out to be under the thumb of a billionaire maniac who wants to cheat death and take over the world; his black sheep sister really does appear to be on the trail of the maniac’s Evil Plan; the travel-between-worlds appears to be possible because of the queen’s magical plots.
More importantly, as the story goes on, Austin gets somewhat less terrible. For the first hundred pages or so, I hated him and most everyone around him; he’s self-centered, 2-dimensional, and describing other people in gross clichés. Just listen to him:
“I followed the heartbreaking sway of her unobtainable backside across the white floor between the white tables past the diners all done up in sleek suits and spangly dresses specifically designed, it seemed, to make me feel ashamed.”
“She was full of magic yin, our Jane, and all I could think was what a shame it was, what a waste to spend that supernatural girl power on a spoiled movie star who wouldn’t even notice if her limo backed over her. A man of spirit, on the other hand, might live and die to make a girl like Jane proud and happy.”
He spends far too much time trying to convey the murderous Serafim’s androgyny, and never quite comes to terms with Maud’s appearance (despite her saving his life, guiding him, and spending enough time with him that he should really stop finding her so weird-looking).
Austin’s lucky enough to be set, briefly, against the backdrop of Sean Gunther, who loves hearing himself talk and regards women as essentially interchangeable. This particular bit of absurdity makes it hard to regret Gunther getting shot shortly thereafter.
I’m not quite certain I’d say Austin develops as a character. The development happens to him: he is given the quest, given the armor and sword, led to the talisman – very much a Level 1 player who happens to get some good rolls. The best thing you can say about him is that he keeps going.
In the context of other books…I’ve begun rereading the Dresden Files, and Austin Lively’s descriptions of women are more cringe-inducing than Harry Dresden’s. Austin seems to be cut from the same cloth as A. Clarence Shandon, except that Galiana is not such a clear pastiche of literary settings like Silverlock’s Commonwealth is. Compared to the ladies of Spinning Silver (an earlier Book Group Thing selection that deserved a review more than this did, except I couldn’t quite summon up the wherewithal), Austin is both unskilled and passive.
Overall, Another Kingdom started out as a two- or one-star read, but winds up at three (of five). It takes a while to get moving and reach the part that Klavan’s really interested in: Austin when he’s developed enough to be at all believable as a hero, and when Galiana’s fleshed out enough to make a suitable backdrop.