Reread: “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

secret gardenI’ve been in a big reading slump lately, but I recently went to see a stage production of The Secret Garden, and it inspired me to reread the book. I used to read this book a lot as a kid; I bought it a library sale at my school. I had never heard of it before, but the title immediately intrigued me. I hadn’t read it for about ten years though, so I was wondering how it would hold up.

Before I talk about the book, a quick review of the play. The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival produced it, and as usual, the sets, direction and acting were all top-notch (although adult actors playing ten year old characters was a bit jarring). I thought the adaptation into a play could have been better though; it was vastly simplified (the characters were all one-dimensional) and some of the events didn’t quite follow. I didn’t remember it being that way in the book, so that’s partly what prompted the reread.

I ended up enjoying the book a lot. Burnett has an engaging writing style, and even though her exposition can be a bit preachy, it rings true enough to be entertaining. The characters are (mostly) pretty complex, except for Dickon who’s basically magical, but that’s okay. Mary and Colin’s friendship made me smile – they’re both lonely, selfish and spoiled, but paradoxically they’re the only people that can help each other become a better person. Everyone else is just too normal.

I definitely picked up on a lot more of the subtle characterisation now that I’m older. The characters are all products of their experiences – Mrs. Medlock seems unsympathetic at first, but she’s just used to minding her own business, Dr. Craven is not terribly invested in his patient’s recovery, but he still holds to his Hippocratic Oath pretty strongly. I’d forgotten about the wonderful character of Mrs. Sowerby, who is responsible for everything sensible that happens in the book (the play omitted her entirely!)

The book is not without its flaws, some due to its time (I winced at the description of native Indians as “not real people”, although Mary was being particularly bratty at the time). Sometimes Burnett is pretty moralistic, and the serendipitous Magic that everything good is blamed on seems a bit hokey to me (but these days, everyone is taught to take charge of their own life and make stuff happen themselves, not depend on the universe’s goodwill – another sign of the cultural shift since the book was written). It is a book with ten year old protagonists, though, and I can distinctly remember being in awe of the wonders of the world then, so maybe I shouldn’t fault it.

My favourite Burnett book when I was younger was Little Lord Fauntleroy; I think I’m going to reread that next.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frederick A. Stokes, 1911 | Buy the book

“Shadow of Stone” by Ruth Nestvold

Shadow of Stone cover

It’s been a few months since I’ve been able to complete a book, largely due to my new job as the lead developer at CasaHop. We’re not fully launched yet, but it’s been really exciting building my team and launching new features. I’m working pretty hard, but I’ve managed to figure out a bit of a work/life balance now, so I’m back to reading and blogging!

Shadow of Stone by Ruth Nestvold is the follow up to Yseult, which was one of my favourite books this yearYseult was the story of Drystan and Yseult, but in this book, it’s been ten years since Drystan has died, and Yseult has had to make a life for herself. Like the previous book, this is also not just a romance – it has politics, battles, the struggle between the old ways and the new and more!

I can’t really review this book very well as a stand alone, so please forgive the constant comparisons with Yseult. Yseult is truly epic, spanning the cultures of Eriu and Brittania, the passionate love of Drystan and Yseult and the impossible dream of unifying Britain. Shadow of Stone is a much less idealistic book. All the familiar characters from Yseult are older and no longer look at the world through the rosy lenses of youth. They are more pragmatic, more cynical – simply older.

That doesn’t mean that the book is any less interesting. Nestvold’s characters are still compelling, and still growing and learning. Yseult can never love like she loved Drystan, but discovers that that may not be such a bad thing. The conflict between the pagans and the Christians has settled into a compromise, but there is still the occasional disagreement. It’s exciting to see the impassioned young men and women we met in Yseult grow into the (mostly) levelheaded adults in Shadow in StoneI really enjoyed the book’s focus on Cador; he was a great character in the previous book and he’s grown into a great man and king.

So what actually happens? As I mentioned earlier, it’s ten years after Drystan’s death, and Yseult has made her home in Britain, ruling benevolently over her husband’s former kingdom. Britain’s kings have been unified and have seen ten years of peace under Arthur. However, everyone is not as happy with this peace as Yseult and her allies, and suddenly there is war again, with the usual plotting, romance, intrigue and betrayal.

If you liked Yseult, you will like Shadow of Stone. And in case you haven’t read Yseult, you probably should.

Note: I got a free copy of this book from the author.

Amazon US: Shadow of Stone
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Shadow of Stone by Ruth Nestvold (The Pendragon Chronicles, #2)
Red Dragon Books, 2013 | Buy the book