“The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher (Quirk, 170 pages, $14.95)
Like the second “Star Wars” movie, the second installment of the “Shakespeare’s Star Wars” series is deeper, darker and more artful than its predecessor. We all know the story; what’s fun is to see how the author Bard-ifies the lines. It works, and it’s great fun indeed.
This time around, the Wampa takes pains to explain he’s not a monster, he’s just hungry; Darth Vader notes that Sith lords also bleed when pricked; and amid his beeps, whistles and chirps, R2D2 gives occasional eloquent asides.
But I was waiting to see what the author did with Yoda, Jedi master of atypical syntax. Even though Yoda’s creative word order seemed as if it could fit right in with iambic pentameter, the author has him speaking in haiku. Inspired! Plus the Ugnaughts sing, and Boba Fett speaks in the plain prose Shakespeare reserved for common ruffians.
If you love “Star Wars” and Shakespeare – and it’s obvious that the author has great respect for both, so carefully is the language crafted and so fondly the references made to Shakespeare’s own lines – nay, but make haste to enjoy this book.
“The Forever Girl” by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon, 316 pages, $24.95)
Alexander McCall Smith’s latest novel stands on its own, not part of any of his series, and explores a new setting: the Cayman Islands. The story follows two families on Grand Cayman, an odd place awash in money where nearly everyone is from someplace else. Clover and James, children at the start of the novel, practically grow up together, until one day a chill between their respective sets of parents guides them apart.
For most children at that it age, it wouldn’t matter – each is off to boarding school in the U.K. and is beginning a new and more independent life. But Clover can’t let go of James, not wanting to lose his friendship and wanting even more than that.
Because these are Nice People with generally good values, no money woes and no real hardships in their lives, we know nothing horrible or drastic is going to happen and that they’ll all end up fine even if they don’t get everything they want. But Clover and James don’t seem to have much chemistry – or personality – and Clover’s mother’s story is far more interesting despite having less emphasis.
The novel is well written, has flashes of McCall Smith’s trademark insight into the human spirit and is a nice diversion, but it probably works best as a read-and-forgotten beach read – and has the cover to match.