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Illyria by Elizabeth Hand
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Illyria (edition 2010)

by Elizabeth Hand

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2042157,485 (3.71)21
Member:BobNolin
Title:Illyria
Authors:Elizabeth Hand
Info:Viking Juvenile (2010), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 144 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:**1/2
Tags:None

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Illyria by Elizabeth Hand

  1. 00
    A Good Voyage = The Madness of Love by Katharine Davies (FFortuna)
  2. 00
    The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees (FFortuna)
    FFortuna: Illyria is also partially based around Twelfth Night.
  3. 00
    Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (Jannes)
    Jannes: Go on then, read the play that is the focal point of the novel. You know you want to.
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Summary: Rogan and Maddy are two of the youngest members of the wealthy Tierney family, first cousins descended from a famous actress. They're closer than cousins normally are: Maddy is in love with Rogan, and is convinced that he's the only one who understands her, and vice-versa… with the possible exception of their typically aloof Aunt Kate, who encourages the children in their love of performance while attempting to distance Maddy from her emotional attachment to Rogan. While Maddy and Rogan are alone together in Rogan's room, they discover a mysterious and magical fairy theater hidden in the wall of the old house, and soon thereafter they both get parts in their school's production of Twelfth Night. But can the fragile world they've created for themselves ever last?

Review: There were a lot of things I liked about this book (and one fairly major thing I didn't), but unfortunately, those things never entirely gelled into a cohesive story. I appreciate that this book is slim - only 144 pages - and self-contained. However, I think it could have been fleshed out a little more to give some of the elements a little more depth, a little more explanation, and make them fit in together a little more coherently. There are a lot of things that are never quite explained - what the heck is going on with the magical mini theater, for one, and what's the nature of the Tierny family "gift", and what's the deal with Aunt Kate - who is vaguely hinted at being somehow magical, but never more than that. And while I can respect that maybe Hand didn't want to over explain everything, that that wasn't the point of the story, that it would take away from the magic of the space she's created, I do feel like it needed at least some explanations - or at least, more overt links between the story elements. As it is, there's so much unexplained that the story feels somewhat unfinished, as though I'd accidentally wound up with a first draft. (And, to be fair, I did read an ARC version, so the final published book may have had some of these issues addressed. That would have had to have been a major re-write, though; more than is typical from ARC to finished product.)

But the good thing, the thing that saved it, was the writing. The prose most emphatically does not feel like a first draft. The prose is polished and smooth and lyrical and capable of conjuring these magic spaces - inside the wall, inside the theater, inside Maddy's head - in a very short space. I also really liked Hand's viewpoint on the difference between talent and ability, and the demands and costs and realities of each, and thought that there were a number of beautifully worded passages exploring those distinctions. I was really impressed by Hand's wordsmanship, and that kept me immersed in the story even when things weren't quite making sense, and even through the parts that would have made me put down a less-beautifully-written book.

And that is quite an accomplishment, because: Cousincest. No. Gross. (And technically, since their fathers are identical twins, it's genetically equivalent to half-sibling incest.) I have a real problem with books that hold up incestuous relationships as being romantic or sweet (see: On Fire's Wings and City of Glass), and this book definitely wants us to feel that Maddy and Rogan are a case of star-crossed love, and that Rogan's family are jerks for interfering with the cousins sleeping together, but: I don't buy it, at all. I do not get romance from cousincest, as much as this book wants me to, and Rogan's siblings were 100% in the right. So that was a major factor working against my enjoyment of this book, and it really is entirely down to Hand's prose that kept me from putting it down in the first 30 pages. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It's gorgeously written and fast, but the plot doesn't quite click, plus: cousincest. So I can't really recommend this one whole-heartedly, but I'm definitely interested in checking out some of Hand's other (hopefully less incest-y) books. ( )
  fyrefly98 | Nov 23, 2014 |
Holy wow. I'm really glad this was novella length because if it had been anymore I probably couldn't have handled it.
Beautiful, magical, intense, masterful, and I could go on and on. It's a world I never want to leave. Just fantastic. Utterly amazed. ( )
  akmargie | Apr 4, 2013 |
by Elizabeth Hand

Opening line: "Rogan and I were cousins; our fathers were identical twins."

Growing up in the sprawling Tierney clan, Rogan and Maddy are unusually close. Not only are their fathers identical twins, they themselves were born on the same day. And in all of the respectable stockbrokers and businessmen, it's Rogan and Maddy who hanker after their family's illicit theatrical past.

Hand's prose is gorgeous--understated and lovely. The story and characters are haunting and beautiful. And yet, I always felt as if I was just one step too removed. There are books where this distance works--Ursula LeGuin springs to mind--but here somehow I felt just a little too far away to care. I read it and appreciated it and put it away without feeling touched.

Now this might very well be my problem--for a different reader, it might resonate in huge emotional ways. And as I said, the prose is gorgeous. I would be interested to hear what teens think of it--I could see a pretty strong reaction either way, depending on the teen.

The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and really captures the mood of the story. I liked the clever method of obscuring their faces--so much better than the normal cropping the head off technique!

There's been some buzz or controversy or something surrounding the fact that Rogan and Maddy are cousins who fall in love. For me it was mostly a non-issue--I'm used to Austen's England, after all. But I did think that it was an interesting way to combine two of the Big Topics in YA. We write about family and we write about falling in love, but not about what happens when the two intersect.

Book source: public library
Book information: Viking, 2010; YA (I'd say this is definitely YA, both content and style-wise)

A few other reviews of Illyria:
Challenging the Bookworm
A Chair, A Fireplace, and A Tea Cozy ( )
  maureene87 | Apr 4, 2013 |
A quick, but quite disappointing read. It's a book that does not have a resolution, or at least not one that I bought into. If there was a point to the story, I missed it. That may be my problem, but I don't think so.

Without spoiling the story, here are my problems with this book. First, we have two teenagers, boy and girl, who are born on the same day to fathers who are identical twins. Genetically, this makes them nearly brother and sister. Technically, though, they are cousins. There seems to be no reason for this highly unlikely birth arrangement, that I could see. It's no spoiler (just read the jacket copy) to mention these two end up as lovers, which means incest however you read the DNA code involved. I'm guessing the author was trying to say the near-twins are linked in some way. Early on, someone calls the boy "fey," which is not explained. Why was he considered fey? Is there a history of Faerie in the family? Never explained. But we have these two madly in love, masturbating with each other up in the attic (they are still in 8th grade, if I remember correctly -- more on that in a moment), and accidentally discover an Impossilbe Magical Item (an IMI, for short). Which leads to my main problem with the book: we're never given even a hint as to how the IMI came to be there. With some straining, I guess that the boy-twin (the 'fey' one) is just that, and here's our evidence, though he has no clue what the IMI is. (But then again, those faeries are a tricksy lot.) He is possessed of nearly supernatural talents as a singer and actor, without a lick of training. Ah, must be that fey thing. Okay, I buy all this, but it's seems a cheap stunt to just throw in an IMI as a plot device. I wanted an explanation of SOME kind, even a vague one, that would tie the "he's fey" comment to the IMI and the boy's near-magical talent.

Then we have the girl-twin, who tells the story in that painful first-person YA voice, though she's telling it from the present day, looking back at events which happened in the 1970's or so. To cut this review short, I'll just say I never took a liking to her, and never understood why we were being told her story. She was a nobody. The interesting character was her boyfriend, and he remains a cipher.

Finally, we have the audience for this book, which is YA. We have drugs, f-bombs, 14-year-olds having sex (seeming surprisingly blase about it, too, which is unrealistic), parents who are depicted as little more than evil robots. This really should have been an adult novel, given the content, and the fact that it's told by someone in the present day (someone about the author's age, say 50ish) looking back on her youth. So, logically, it should be told (if first person must be used) in an adult voice. The book never states when the events are taking place, and only someone in their 50's or older will get the references to "Tales from Topographic Oceans" and other relics of that time. ( )
  BobNolin | Dec 17, 2012 |
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Rogan and I were cousins; our fathers were identical twins.
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Teenage cousins Madeleine and Rogan, who share twin souls and a sexual relationship, are cast in a school production of Twelfth Night that forces them to confront their respective strengths and future prospects.

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