I haven’t read everything Jacqueline Carey has ever written, but I’ve read a decent chunk of it. And I’ve always liked it. Kushiel’s Legacy is one of my favorite series, one that I reread every couple of years. The Agent of Hel Urban Fantasy trilogy is a fun romp that I couldn’t read fast enough, and wish there was a lot more of. Like many readers, when I read one thing by an author that I like, I’ll read more of their works because I want to find more things that I like. With authors whose MO is to explore the various subgenres of Fantasy, that desire to like everything they write can be hit-or-miss. I wanted to like Miranda and Caliban as much as I liked the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s work that I’ve read. But I just didn’t.
A lovely girl grows up in isolation where her father, a powerful magus, has spirited them to in order to keep them safe.
We all know the tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge, but what of Miranda? Or Caliban, the so-called savage Prospero chained to his will?
In this incredible retelling of the fantastical tale, Jacqueline Carey shows readers the other side of the coin―the dutiful and tenderhearted Miranda, who loves her father but is terribly lonely. And Caliban, the strange and feral boy Prospero has bewitched to serve him. The two find solace and companionship in each other as Prospero weaves his magic and dreams of revenge.
Always under Prospero’s jealous eye, Miranda and Caliban battle the dark, unknowable forces that bind them to the island even as the pangs of adolescence create a new awareness of each other and their doomed relationship.
There’s nothing technically wrong with this book. The writing isn’t bad, the story isn’t full of holes, the world is consistent. At the same time, the pace was almost unbearably slow. I was more than halfway through the book and still wondering when they story would start. The characters weren’t unlikeable, they just weren’t particularly interesting either. I wasn’t exactly bored by this book, but neither was I so excited to read it that I raced through it as fast as I could.
The story begins when Miranda is six, and for that age she’s an incredibly eloquent child. But as the story progresses, Miranda doesn’t. Despite the story making a point of her education by her father, she never seems to grow intellectually. Part of that is Prospero keeping his daughter ignorant for his “great working,” but another part of that is simply that there’s not much room to grow given the starting point. Even harder for me to read, she is—for much, if not all of the story—content in her ignorance, even knowing that she is such.
There’s a reason for much of this, of course. The whole story of this book takes place within the framework of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, a play whose action occurs all within a single day. So while it builds some new things within that frame, it never expands outwards—because it can’t. Many readers will know how the play ends, and so this book had to end that same way. Because I knew where the story was building to, it lacked some of the dramatic tension that I have previously enjoyed in Carey’s work. Though it has been long enough since I last read The Tempest that I only remember the barest outline of that story, I wonder if I might have liked this book better if I had never read the play, or if I had read it more recently.
The rest of the cast—Caliban, Ariel, and Prospero—has such potential to be interesting, but they don’t really do much. Miranda and Caliban narrate the story in alternating first person perspectives, but Prospero and Ariel take up so much of the story still, given that the cast of the story is limited by to the occupants of the island. Even Ariel’s Shakespearean language patterns don’t quite make him a fuller character, and the play’s constraints on the book make Propsero’s “great working” is mostly done off-screen, so while we get to see the inevitable results, we don’t see much of the working itself outside of the observations of Miranda or Caliban.
Don’t get me wrong. There are definitely people out there who are going to love this book. This is certainly a departure from what I’ve read of the rest of Jacqueline Carey’s books, which was part of its appeal. Of course it’s always a pleasure to read the next book in a beloved series, but its where authors allow themselves to depart from the familiar and learn new things that readers can really get a sense of their skill as writers.
The one thing I found myself getting really into in this book was the magic Prospero uses. It’s an interesting mix of alchemy and astronomy, and the Greek and Roman pantheons. Carey herself said that she did a lot of research into the magical practices of the time, picking and choosing the ones that allowed for a consistent magical system, and I would happily read another book that used the same magical construction.
Miranda and Caliban is written by Jacqueline Carey and was published by Tor Books on February 14, 2017.