Title: Prospero Lost
Author: L. Jagi Lamplighter
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Publication Date: August 2009
Hardcover: 352 pages
Why did we read this book: We had seen glowing reviews for Ms. Lamplighter’s debut effort all over the blogosphere – but it was Graeme of Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review that really got us salivating over this title. With his help, we were able to procure two review copies of this gorgeous title, and we couldn’t wait to get started.
How did we get this book: Thea received a Review Copy (from publisher) and Ana got her copy as a gift from Graeme.
Summary: (from amazon.com)
More than four hundred years after the events of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the sorcerer Prospero, his daughter Miranda, and his other children have attained everlasting life. Miranda is the head of her family’s business, Prospero Inc., which secretly has used its magic for good around the world. One day, Miranda receives a warning from her father: “Beware of the Three Shadowed Ones.” When Miranda goes to her father for an explanation, he is nowhere to be found.
Miranda sets out to find her father and reunite with her estranged siblings, each of which holds a staff of power and secrets about Miranda’s sometimes-foggy past. Her journey through the past, present and future will take her to Venice, Chicago, the Caribbean, Washington, D.C., and the North Pole. To aid her, Miranda brings along Mab, an aerie being who acts like a hard-boiled detective, and Mephistopheles, her mentally-unbalanced brother. Together, they must ward off the Shadowed Ones and other ancient demons who want Prospero’s power for their own….
Thea: It’s completely shallow, but as soon as I saw the gorgeous cover art for this book, I wanted it instantly. When I read the blurb for Prospero Lost, I wanted it even more. The only question that remained in my mind was, with all this wanting going on, could the actual title live up to my irrational expectations? The simple answer is: why, yes. YES it can. I loved Prospero Lost, completely, truly, madly, deeply. Ms. Lamplighter seamlessly blends beloved characters from Shakespeare’s The Tempest with other literary landmarks, such as Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a Raymond Chandler-esque gumshoe, Homerian Greek mythological figures, and even throws in an appearance from Father Christmas himself. It’s a wondrous melting pot of genres and archetypes, and I loved every second of it.
Ana: It is funny how I had a completely different reaction to the cover of the book when I first saw it: I thought it was ugly as hell and did not give the book a second thought. It was only after reading Graeme’s review that my curiosity was spiked; then Thea start campaigning for a joint. And I am so glad she did because even though we departed from opposite directions with regards to the expectations, we ended up in the same final line: I too, loved Prospero Lost, truly, madly, deeply. For its scope, for its creative genius and for the imaginative retelling of The Tempest, I loved Prospero Lost as a tour de force and as a story. It has been a while since I caught myself simply enjoying the act of reading so much.
On the Plot:
It has been four-hundred years since William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and the Prospero family has grown considerably in number and power. Immortal, thanks to daughter Miranda’s status as a Handmaiden of Eurynome and her ability to procure the Waters of Life, Prospero and his children have become rich and powerful beyond any other mortal on Earth. As the eldest, Miranda takes over the day to day running of international conglomerate Prospero, Inc. – the family company that not only dabbles in the mundane and mortal, but keeps humanity safe by virtue of its immortal and magical dealings. One day, during one of Prospero’s prolonged absences, however, Miranda discovers a note from her father – a warning that she and her siblings are no longer safe, because the three shaded ones have escaped from Hell. When Miranda cannot locate her father, she takes it upon herself to warn her eight siblings – especially when one of the shaded ones attacks Prospero Mansion itself. With head detective, the inscrutable Mab (actually the North Wind, one of the Aerie Ones in human form) in tow, Miranda embarks on a journey to warn her strange, immortal family, and to save Prospero from the clutches of Hell.
Thea: In terms of world-building, Prospero Lost is an incredibly tall order – set in modern times, Ms. Lamplighter takes an old and familiar story with the characters of Prospero and Miranda, but makes them strange mortals that have lived far longer than any human should. The story also encompasses different mythologies, spirits, magics, and interpretation of the pantheons of heaven and hell. It seems like all these disparate parts should make for a confused, befuddled reading experience; but somehow, it all blends together in some mysterious alchemy, creating an entirely winsome and never overwhelming novel.
Ms. Lamplighter writes with a skill that spans centuries of the human experience though the eyes of first-person narrator Miranda, but focuses on Miranda’s quest to warn her siblings of the impending danger. In this sense, Prospero Lost is something of a quest-mystery novel, with Miranda and Mab traveling from location to location, attempting to persuade her reluctant and bizarre family members to take heed of her warnings. And, as is the case in most mystery novels, different clues are revealed each step of the way, leading Mab and Miranda ever onward to discover just who the shaded ones are, how they escaped, and what exactly they want with Prospero and his children. Though there isn’t much resolution in this book as more questions are posed than answers given, and the book ends on an infuriating cliffhanger, I liked that Ms. Lamplighter keeps things ambiguous and that she’s not afraid to keep storylines dangling – in the tradition of many great mysteries, each unveiled clue sheds light on an even larger mystery, and such is the case with Prospero Lost. The plotting might be straightforward and undesirable to some readers who crave solid answers and resolutions, but I liked Ms. Lamplighter’s choice to keep things open. As this is part of an ongoing trilogy, we can all rest assured that answers are coming!
Ana: Colour me totally delighted with the premise of Prospero Lost. Ms. Lamplighter takes The Tempest and departs from it, making the characters her own: the story goes basically as told by Shakespeare (who learnt the story directly from Prospero, by the way) but with a few differences. Miranda never married Ferdinand (who jilted her at the altar), Prospero never quit his Magic and never delivered in his promise to free Ariel and the other Aery Ones; in fact he has proceeded to become one of the most powerful magicians in the world, taking up on the mission to protect humans from destructive supernatural forces and ended up having another 8 children. Together, the Prospero family was a force to behold but somewhere along the centuries something went very wrong and each kid went on their separate ways, each carrying a Staff of Power, granted by Prospero when they all worked together at Prospero, Inc.
Or this is what Miranda, the eldest child, tells us. As she is fond of repeating, she read Shakespeare several times and only lived her life once so it is difficult to remember exactly events that took place such a long time ago. And this is what makes Prospero Lost such an unique book: the book is narrated by an immortal whose memory is not that good. It makes for riveting read because not only the narrator may be unreliable but also for the very idea that immortal beings are not necessarily more wise or omniscient. I read quite a few books with immortals characters in them but I can’t remember a single one where the problem of memory is addressed and that alone makes Prospero Lost a book well worth reading.
The plot itself is a Quest story with Miranda and the detective Mab going after each of her siblings to tell of their father’s disappearance and to make sure that their Staffs are secure. On the way Miranda thinks about each member of the family and remembers the adventures they had together -my favourite being the one all of them invaded the Vatican to steal objects of potential harmful magic kept by the Church, including The Ark of Covenant and Merlin’s Globe. Each of these stories, each step of the way represents a piece of the puzzle regarding not only Prospero’s disappearance but the entire history of his family and power and I can’t wait to see when all the pieces fall into place.
I did have a couple of misgivings with regards to the writing though. Sometimes Miranda reminiscences came across as rather info-dumpy and repetitious BUT in all fairness I think this is intentional – I felt the author was hammering those pieces of the puzzle that are most important. I sometimes, felt the need to have a notebook like Mab’s where I could write down each of the clues.
Prospero Lost kept me guessing (I have so far, theories A, B, C and D about what the heck is going on) and it kept me entertained with the rich, imaginative storytelling. I thought this book was, in other words, made of cool and I had a jolly good time reading it.
On the Characters:
Thea: As I’ve said before, Miranda is the first person narrator of this novel, and as such, the narrative is colored by her impressions and memories – and it becomes abundantly clear that Miranda is not the most reliable of narrators. Forever young so long as she keeps drinking the Waters of Life, Miranda is not immortal (she, and the rest of her family, can all be killed, but they will not die of old age or sickness), but she has an unlimited lifespan. And, as a mere mortal creature that has lived for centuries, she’s a little peculiar. What I loved the most of Ms. Lamplighter’s novel was her detailed, realistic portrayal of ageless beings – as Miranda and her family are simply humans with no time limitations, they have grown strange in their time on earth. Their memories are foggy of early dates (for human minds were not meant to hold centuries’ worth of memories), they develop eccentricities, and use their magic for personal, even selfish purposes. A common failing in many contemporary fantasy novels is the creation of so-called “immortals,” but who have the mindset and outlook of regular humans with an eighty-year lifespan. Ms. Lamplighter manages to avoid this pitfall, and creates characters that feel both believably old, and yet still relatably human at the same time.
But back to Miranda. She is the apple of her father’s eye; the loyal daughter who has stayed by his side, running his business over the centuries. She never questions his authority or judgement, and she pursues the family business without reflection – this has some interesting implications over the course of the book, especially considering the absent Prospero has tricked and forced the Aery Ones into his service for a sworn period of one thousand years. At times, Miranda is obviously conflicted about this, but shrugs off any residual guilt by the reasoning that her father is a good man, and his motives are good enough for her. At the same time, Miranda’s consumed constantly by her desire to finally achieve the last stage in her service to her Lady Eurynome, and progress from Handmaiden to Sibyl.
Perhaps Miranda isn’t the most obviously likable character – the fact that she adheres to her father’s every wish, even when he’s not present in the story, even when she questions his reasoning only to dismiss her own doubts immediately, does not speak highly of her character. Nor does her repetitive desire to become a Sibyl at long last. And yet, I genuinely liked and cared for Miranda. Her shortcomings make her a relatable character, and her loyalty (though possibly misplaced) is an interesting and admirable quality. Her perceived frigidity (which really is simply a distance from her emotions) may be a turnoff to some, but I couldn’t help but want to root for Miranda, and hope she’d be able to conquer her own self doubts.
In terms of secondary characters, I loved them all. Mab, in particular, with his Philip Marlowe persona, his trusty fedora and perpetual four o’clock shadow, and his gruff attitude is an automatic win in my heart. The gruff detective types always manage to win me over, immediately. And, he only gets better over the course of the book – though he resents being forced into servitude for the Prospero family, he genuinely seems to care for Miranda. At least, that’s my perception. And the dynamic between the two characters is pretty damn awesome. Then, there’s Miranda’s younger brother, Mephistopheles – who may or may not have demonic properties, and who certainly has a tenuous grip on sanity. Mephisto is, in a word, hilarious. His pet “Chimey,” his childlike attitude towards responsibility, his playful – and very dangerous – magical abilities, everything about him is wonderful. Of course, he’s dangerous too, but one can’t read Mephisto and not be charmed by the guy.
As for the other characters, Ms. Lamplighter covers a lot of ground – from two of Miranda’s strange other siblings, the resigned Theo and bitter (and cruel) Logistilla, to Father Christmas, to dangerous Elf Lords, and other dangerous corporeal entities. Each are wonderful and diverse, and enchanting in their own ways.
Ana: I agree with Thea: the author’s portrayal of ageless beings was very realistic – as much as one can be realistic when it comes to immortality. The point is: being ageless and very powerful affect each and every one of them, sometimes in a not very positive way, raising questions about whether it is natural or not for human beings to procure or want something that is not in their nature.
Once again, I had a different reaction from Thea, with regards to Miranda. Whereas Thea liked and cared for Miranda, I didn’t. Miranda is not a likeable character because she is not a likeable person. She is cold and detached who at times were on the brink of being downright odious to me. Regardless of that though, she is never dull or uninteresting. Part of what makes Miranda so fascinating was how she is so unrelentingly true to Prospero and Her Lady.
Every time she is on the brink of questioning her father or Her Lady, she stops herself and starts thinking of how much good Prospero, Inc., does. How without it surely, the world would end and disaster would follow! She was basically a walking talking commercial for Prospero, Inc. To the point where I was constantly wondering if there wasn’t something there given as how Miranda, as a Handmaiden, is the very key to her family’s immortality.
So, kudos to the writer who made me want to read about a character whom I disliked. Having said that since this seems to be at heart, a Quest, I am sure Miranda will surface as a different person on the other side. I would actually would go as far as to say that this is also partly, a coming of age story. It may sound ludicrous since Miranda is nearly 500 years old but in some aspects she seems to be stuck in her 16 year old self. And how much of that is intentional (being cryptic here on purpose, dear reader) is yet to be seen.
As for the other characters, I echo Thea’s thoughts on Mab and Mephisto. I loved them both and Mephisto made for some of the laugh out loud funny moments. I also loved all of the wonderful cameos from Mustardseed to Ariel, from Father Christmas to the other siblings. I have to praise the author again, as the appearance of so many cameos and beings from diverse mythologies is a potentially dangerous route to take in the road to Excess but she totally pulled it off. It never grated, it never came out as contrived. It simply worked.
Last, but not least we have Prospero himself who may be absent for the entire duration of the book but is an inherent part of the story. As a character Prospero comes across as a very shady one: how did Prospero get to be so powerful? and who the hell does he think he is to be meddling with not only human life but with the supernatural world? I kept questioning this over and over again almost as a reflection of Mab’s own questions.
Final Thoughts, Observations, and Rating:
Thea: If it isn’t clear, I loved Prospero Lost completely, for its colorful characters and its impressive worldbuilding and mythology blending. L. Jagi Lamplighter is a novelist to look out for, and I cannot wait for Prospero in Hell!
Ana: I enjoyed myself reading this like you wouldn’t know. Every time Miranda recalled one of her stories, I found myself glued to the pages. And hey, in the next book? They go to Hell. Literally. I am so there.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read a full excerpt online HERE by selecting the “Look Inside” feature.
Mab puts us in the mind of some favorite detectives…
Any other favorites?
Thea: 8 – Excellent
Ana: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage by Alma Alexander