Author: L. Jagi Lamplighter
Publication Date: September 2011
Hardcover: 476 pages
Prospero, the sorcerer on whose island of exile William Shakespeare set his play, The Tempest, has endured these past many centuries. His daughter Miranda runs the family business, Prospero, Inc. so smoothly that the vast majority of humanity has no idea that the Prosperos’ magic has protected Earth from numerous disasters. But Prospero himself has been kidnapped by demons from Hell, and Miranda, aided by her siblings, has followed her father into Hell to save him from a certain doom at the hands of vengeful demons. Time is running out for Miranda, and for the great magician himself. Their battle against the most terrifying forces of the Pit is a great fantasy adventure.
Stand alone or series: Third and final book in the Prospero’s Daughter Trilogy
How did we get this book: We both received review copies from the publisher
Thea: This is going to be a tough review to write. I absolutely loved the first two books in this series. I loved the concept of Shakespeare’s Prospero and his children living among us, their different staffs and their very human flaws. I also loved the intricate universe of the series that embraced different creatures (including elemental spirits, demons, angels, elves, and so on) as well as disparate pantheons of belief, but filtered through the more traditional lens of a medieval Alighierian notion of heaven and hell. I dearly wanted and expected so much from this final chapter in the adventures of the absent Prospero and his bickering children, and, while I do think this is still a solid book that concludes the adventure with an epic flair, it did not live up to the promise of its predecessors. Furthermore, I was uncomfortable with the way certain elements played out…but more on that in a bit.
Ana: My thoughts pretty much echo Thea’s. Like her, I loved the first two books in the series for basically the same reasons. Although in all honesty, my love has been somewhat shaken and I was left with a little bit of wariness after certain events in the last book. Thus, I opened Prospero Regained with trepidation. And I am thankful that I found more of the awesome things that made me love this series so much in the first place: the creativeness of the world building and The Prosperos. However, certain…aspects of the novel did not go down that well and in the end, all things considered, I was left with a feeling that was closer to disappointment and uneasiness than satisfaction.
On the Plot:
Thea: Prospero Regained begins immediately where Prospero in Hell leaves off, after Miranda has accidentally summoned the Hell Winds with her staff, and she and her siblings have been scattered across the nine circles of Hell. Slowly, Miranda, her trusty right hand man Mab, and her brothers Gregor (recently recovered from his exile on Mars) and Erasmus (as venomously distrustful of Miranda as ever) traverse the circles from Purgatory to Lust, Gluttony to Greed and so on, ever downward to find their other siblings and save their father Prospero from execution at the hands of Lilith, the Queen of Air and Darkness.
Prospero Regained takes place almost entirely in Hell and follows Miranda, her brothers and sister as they overcome not only the myriad dangers of the inferno, but their own splintering resolve and dangerous suspicion and mistrust of each other. From a pure plotting and storytelling perspective, I was thrilled to see the Prospero clan finally moving together to achieve their onerous quest for their father, and I (at least initially) found the setting expertly researched and fascinating. The Prospero children encounter many great and terrible things on their trek to their father, crossing the fetid Swamp of Uncleanliness to rivers of lava, glacial wastelands of despair, and the rotted mockery that is Infernal Milan. Too, Ms. Lamplighter relies heavily on Dante’s vision of hell but imbues it with her own take on the demons and souls trapped there, creating a vivid and unique picture of what fate lies beyond the grave for the damned. And, from a general storytelling perspective, I loved the general direction of the plot and how all the conflicts of the past come to clash here in this dramatic finale. I don’t want to say anything more about these plot twists for fear of spoilers, but I do think that a number of complications from prior books are deftly handled and resolved in this third, ultimate novel.
HOWEVER. While the descriptions, visuals, general direction, and overall vision of the story are superb, there are some very significant issues that drastically detracted from my enjoyment of the novel.
First, there’s the problem of excess. Prospero Regained is a sizable book that, unfortunately, suffered from a bad case of repetition. While the scenery would change, the same key elements were on constant loop: Miranda would feel guilt about inadvertently calling up the Hell Winds, she’d wonder why Erasmus hates her so much, she’d lament about the mystery identity of her mother, and she’d cry about the loss of her Lady/loss of her love Astreus/loss of her remaining family. Then, she and Erasmus would get into some kind of fight, resulting in more tears and bitterness. This exact same process would be carried out in every location in Hell – in a boat on the Swamp of Uncleanliness. In the belly of a dinosaur. In the fiery pits of Rage. On the frigid glacier. You get the picture.
Then, there’s the problem of Massive Infodumping, a la The Matrix Reloaded. At the climax of the novel, when Miranda finally learns the truth of her heritage and why her father acted the way he did, all is revealed in a massive Q&A session. Literally. At one point, each of the children are permitted to ask one pressing question of their father, who, pointblank answers. While I appreciated the information revealed in these exchanges, it’s incredibly frustrating to have these details delivered via a not even well disguised infodump.
Finally, there’s the issue of subtext, metaphor, and interpretation. I do not like to be preached at in my fiction, nor am I a fan of the unquestionably Christian explanation for everything that happens in this book (and thus, the series). One of the things I loved the most about the Prospero’s Daughter trilogy was the fact that there were other pantheons and beliefs included in the universe that seem to have existed outside the reach of Judeo-Christian belief. In Prospero Regained, however, all things are incorporated to the Christian faith and while I think Ms. Lamplighter does a phenomenal job of doing that and providing an overarching Christian explanation that ingests paganism, elves, and other such values, it simply isn’t to my personal taste (I don’t hold this against the book – it just doesn’t appeal to me, personally).
What bothered me more – and I’m certain Ana will elaborate further – is how uncomfortable the conclusion of the book made me, especially in regards to the issue of enslavement. There is a very, very disturbing interpretation that can be made for the reasoning behind the enslavement of the Aerie Ones (without getting into spoilers that is, this notion that they were enslaved “for their own good”). I don’t think there was any metaphor intended by the author with the rationale behind the enslavement of the Aerie Ones, but that doesn’t change the potentially horrific subtextual interpretation of this rationale.
Again, though, this is a matter of personal opinion and interpretation, and your mileage may vary.
Ana: YES, to everything that Thea says. From a plotting perspective – and not only the plot in this book, but the overall, overarching plot of this series – the author brings everything together beautifully. One of the best things about this series is indeed the vision and the scope of the story, the roles that the Prosperos, and more importantly, Miranda, play in this world. That has always fascinated me, and it remains, to me, the best aspect of the series, and I think that everything has been deftly resolved within the constrictions of this particular world-building. This, I can not fault.
But just like Thea, I had huge problems with other aspects of the novel and they too, detracted from my enjoyment of the novel. The amount of info-dump is staggering. The problem of excess and the amount of repetition were almost mind-numbing especially when it came to Miranda’s inner monologue as she kept going about the same issues over and over again. Issues, mind you, that are not even new since they have been plaguing her for quite some time now: from the unknown identity of her mother to her brother Erasmus’ hate for her; from her relationship with the Lady to her fallen beloved Astreus. The problem though is not only with the repetitive nature of her monologue but also with the fact that Miranda’s voice is quite antiquated and ornate which does fit her character quite well and I have no problem with that but in excess? It turns out to be quite melodramatic.
The excess is also present in certain characters: no one represents excess quite like Lord Astreus: he is a demon AND an Archangel AND a Fey Lord AND a Wind God.
I am pleased to say though that some of my fears did not come to fruition. After I read Prospero in Hell, I feared that Miranda’s rape and subsequent loss of power would mean that she would forget everything that was important to her. I am glad to report that the repercussions of that rape were dealt with reasonably well in emotional terms and with regards to the relationship between Miranda and her Lady.
Which brings me to my biggest problem with the novel and this is a completely subjective and personal problem. As Thea so aptly describes: by the end of the novel every single thing about this series turns out to be unquestionably Christian. On the one hand, this was definitely less preachy than it could have been: I thought that the author was able to leave room for some interpretation with regards to certain aspects of this particular theology and to introduce interesting ideas about the nature of Hell and about Free Will. On the other hand, one of my favourite things about this novel is how this world-building was so vast and diverse: it played with historical characters as well as fictional ones and it had creatures from several different mythologies and cultures and everything was so grand and creative and full of potential. But when every single thing is then explained via Christian lenses ( I mean, even Greek gods have converted!) in my mind, it limits, it constricts this world that was once so….free.
Mind you, I know that nothing of this is particularly new in this series, as Christian beliefs were very much present in the Prosperos’ lives from the get go and I could accept that, because it fit the characters well. But in this book, it is no longer about the Prosperos’ view of the world – framed by their own personal experiences but about how the entire universe is squeezed to fit into this particular faith. That makes me really wary and somewhat disappointed but as I said before, this is a very personal reaction.
Lastly but not least, there is one final issue I would like to discuss. The enslavement of the Aerie Ones is one of the most important topics in this series. Miranda has often wondered about setting them free but the main idea was that the Prosperos have enslaved them in order to protect mankind from the terrible things they could do to the human race. It is terrible and horrible but within the series, it fit the history of this family and their mission in the world. However, in this book it is revealed that more than protecting humankind, Prospero had other intentions behind enslaving the Aerie Ones – he did so hoping they would grow a soul, after being in contact with humans for so long. Thus, their enslavement was for “their own good”. Again, had this been entirely from Prospero’s perspective only, his own terrible motivation without any textual corroboration, I wouldn’t have to wonder about anything else. However, Prospero is not only sanctioned by Heaven but when the time comes when they end up freeing the Aerie Ones (this is not really a spoiler, since it was obvious it would happen at some point), it turns out that the majority of them not only accept that their enslavement WAS for their own good but also continue to work for the Prosperos! This is something so potentially problematic and open for horrible interpretations that it makes me really uncomfortable and uneasy.
On the Characters:
Thea: While I felt there were sizable issues with regards to the plotting aspects of the novel, the characters of Prospero Regained are as brilliant and wonderfully flawed as ever. Our narrator and heroine, Miranda, has come so far over the course of this series, from the haughty ice queen of the first book to the empathetic woman of this final novel. While some of her inner monologue did tend to drag and become repetitive, her fears and self-doubts rang as unshakably genuine, and I love the growth and change she displays across her character arc. Beyond Miranda, though, I love, love, LOVE Mephisto and Mab of all the characters in this book. Mab has always been a favorite, with his rumpled Humphrey Bogart-esque inspired private eye persona and his keen eye. And Mephisto is simply wonderful – having drank the waters of the Lethe to forget something that could destroy him and his family, Mephisto oscillates between hilarity verging on madness and deep ruts of quiet. I love that for all the humor he brings to the plot, he also is the eldest brother of the Prospero clan and manages to find a way to look out for every one of his siblings. Plus, he has a cheer weasel (and no, I’m not going to elaborate and tell you what that is!).
I should also mention Erasmus, who goes through as dramatic and life-shattering an arc as his loathed sister Miranda does in this book. The hatred he feels for his sister is so frustrating, but his reasons are understandable. I love characters with dark, conflicted motivations, and Erasmus is as good as they come.
Ana: Aww the cheer weasel. Good times Thea, good times.
Although I had considerable problems with the novel as evidenced above, one of the saving graces of this series remains the Prospero family. I just…love them. Flaws and all. This last book focus on the Prosperos as a family and on their seemingly unsolvable gripes and feuds. But in order to save their father – and heck, save the world – they need to become a real family and work together. Thus was pretty cool and I loved seeing all of the bickering and all of the love they did have for each other. Although I still hate Erasmus (and no, I was not convinced by any of the “reasons” behind his hatred for Miranda) my love for Mephisto knows no bounds – and along with Miranda and her fabulous character arc, the highlight of this entire series.
Even though, in all honesty, I could have done without the Prosperos being the ultimate heroes they turned out to be given how messed up they were. But since since their paths mimics the paths that all souls must undergo within this particular theology- making mistakes, repenting – it actually works to some extent.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Thea: Despite my misgivings concerning the writing, the theological departure from the more religion-agnostic aspects of the prior books, and the potentially problematic thematic connotations, I still truly enjoyed Prospero Regained. It did not live up to the brilliance of the novels before it, but it does effectively close out the trilogy. Recommended (because if you’ve come this far, you must know how it ends), with reservations.
Ana: Well, I think I feel less charitable. Although I loved certain parts of the novel and I still do love the characters (and might even miss them), my dissatisfaction and disappointment runs deep – to the point where it brings down the entire trilogy down a notch (or two). But as Thea says: if you’ve come this far, you have to know how it ends!
Ana: 5, leaning toward 6
Thea: 6 – Good, recommended with reservations
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