Saturday, January 8, 2011
Review: Gail Carson Levine’s Ever
What a plot to explore! The story of Jephthah is one of the most controversial in the Bible: a rash pledge turned into a tragic human sacrifice, an empty victory. It’s totally the stuff Greek dramas are made of, troubling and tied up in fatal hubris. Like Shakespeare’s Puck once said: “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”(Note: Hamlet taunts Polonius by comparing him to Jephthah. He retorts: "If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter I love passing well." His daughter Ophelia later kills herself.) I was excited to see the familiar story from the view of Jephthah’s daughter, to see her wrestle with her fate and faith. (I mean, she doesn’t even get a name in the Bible. It’s always “Jephthah’s daughter.”)
In Ever, the daughter’s name is Kezi. Her father is a weaver, not a warrior, and he makes the vow to “Admat” to save his sick wife. (Admat in this story stands in for an omniscient, monotheistic deity. He’s loving but also cruel. Straight up Old Testament Judaism.) Her story bumps up against Olus, the “Akkan” god of the winds. (The Akkan polytheistic religion is modeled after a Greek or Babylonian mythology). Olus is a young god, curious about humans, so he goes to live like one in the neighboring country of Hyte. He finds work as a goat-herder, conveniently on the land of Kezi’s father, and falls in implausible love with Kezi from afar. (How did this theme of creepily watching a girl become canon law in YA?) Once she is promised as a sacrifice, they meet, fall in love, and try to change her destiny. (Spoilers follow.)
While I appreciate the pieces, it just didn’t come together. I wanted to root for Kezi and Olus, but the romance never really moved me. I didn’t believe their love-at-first-sight was the kind that could thwart fate. No, Kezi doesn’t die. (Though a time-limited romance between a god and a mortal might have been interesting.) To make it less gruesome for kids, we get parallel heroic quests:
To win a chance to become an immortal god, Kezi must obtain a feather from a Warkis, a bird-like creature who lives in the underworld-esque land of Wadir. She is instructed not to stay too long and not to eat/drink anything there. (Implied Persephone-level dire consequences.) Nothing is what it seems in the underground kingdom, and Kezi has to come to an awareness about herself to escape. (How a Warkis is created is horrifying.) Cool, mystical quest, right? Contrast it to Olus’ quest to become “a hero.” He’s trapped in a dried-up well to overcome his fear of being underground. Fear of being underground. I guess he also saves a mortal without the use of his godly powers, but really?
Things kind of unravel after they’re reunited. Too many loose ends are left just so the lovers can get a “happy ending.” Most of the journey was fun though. I loved the quirky Pantheon of Akkan gods, who were just the right balance of human/divine in their interactions, and their powers. I enjoyed when they intruded on the lovers’ story, and I thought it was amusingly appropriate how little they cared for the humans who worshiped them. (Why should they care about creatures whose lifespans are but a blink in their immortal existence?) I also thought the Jephthah set-up was the right amount of dramatic. Kezi’s father makes the vow (sacrifice the first person who congratulates him on his wife’s recovered health) but tries to weasel out of it on a technicality (wait out the three day time limit as a hermit). When a pushy aunt unwittingly begins to fulfill the conditions of the vow, Kezi selflessly sacrifices herself to save her beloved relative. That’s a girl I can root for, even if the ending of her story leaves something to be desired.