Allison's Book Bag

The Various by Steve Augarde

Posted on: January 23, 2011

How many pages do you read of a book before you decide its fate? Can you know within one page if you love it? How many chapters do you endure if you hate it? What if your feelings are simply neutral? All these questions have been debated by readers. Some readers hold to a 5-sentence rule; others to a 5-page rule; while a few doggedly persevere no matter what to the end. Myself, I’m normally pretty tolerant of a novel. It’s been almost a year since I abandoned one. Yet I came close to quitting on The Various by Steve Augarde, which goes to show that at least sometimes you should stick with a book. Otherwise, you might miss out on an incredibly charming story.

By the end of the first chapter, I felt so bored I even checked the copyright. I expected to find the book had been written at least fifty years ago, but actually it was only published in 2003. I also felt somewhat irritated by its adult characters. The mom tended to scream into cell phones and generally seemed unpleasant. Moreover, she had nothing good to say about her brother, even though she foisted her daughter oh him while she performed around the world. As for her brother, he seemed like a country bumpkin, wearing yellow corduroy trousers, nicknaming himself Mad Uncle Brian, and sticking his tongue out after this self-debasing joke. The main character, twelve-year-old Midge, I liked well enough (although sometimes she acted about nine) but didn’t know if I could endure 400+ pages of this story.

Then I hit chapter two. For four pages we enter Midge’s head, as she tries to comprehend the news that she was born on Uncle Brian’s farm. Within the same chapter, we watch her in Anne Shirley fashion give names to every nook and building on the farm. We also feel chills and intrigue right along with her, as a voice speaks inside her head and its source turns out to be a winged horse. Suddenly I couldn’t put the book down.

For the next 400+ pages, the book remained uneven. In chapter four, there is a sudden switch to Uncle Brian’s viewpoint. His view is hardly ever explored again. Same goes for George, one of Midge’s cousins who later shows up for a visit. No one else’s viewpoints are ever explored, except those of the little folk. Although while reading adventures strictly from their viewpoint, I found these jarred me from Midge’s world, in hindsight the book seems richer for having seen the story from their eyes. Some incidents and transformations seem contrived. For example, why in their search to find the Naiad horse, did the fairies overlook the first building they encountered? It is of course where the horse lies injured. Or why did Midge’s mom suddenly return to the farm, make good with Uncle Brian, and become a pleasant character? An explanation is given, but the situation still felt contrived to fit the needs of the plot. With each chapter clocking in at about fifty pages, the book often felt rambling and unpruned. Yet the style grew on me and, by page 400, I actually loved the book.

"Fairies Looking Through A Gothic Arch"

Image via Wikipedia

Chapter two was the turning point for how I felt about the book. Midge’s thoughts, feelings, and actions all seemed natural. Augarde effectively took his time with them. Midge became a real and vulnerable girl whom I cared about. As for his depiction of her mixed reactions to The Various (or the little folk), I felt constantly amazed and envious. As an aspiring writer of fantasy, I now consider him as a model for how to show surprise, disbelief, fear, and curiosity about the supernatural. The same holds for the unique world he created for the Various. Some of his little people might have wings, others might horde in Borrower fashion, but Augarde has created his own unique society. Not once did I ever feel disappointed with it, except for wishing the groups within would stop their constant quarrels. Interspersed throughout are also touching and funny incidents that show real understanding of human follies. For example, when the Various realize that their Naiad horse has disappeared and so need permission from the Queen to send out a rescue team, they rely on her fading memory to also convince her that she had ordered the Naiad horse to venture onto human land in the first place.

Steve Augarde’s books were recommended to me by members of the writing community at Zoetrope. To them, I must say thanks for the introduction. Despite the uneven quality of this first book in the Touchstone trilogy, I loved The Various and am eager to read the next two books. Speaking of which, Celadine awaits me!

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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