Thursday, July 21, 2011


Once Every Never - Lesley Livingston
Genre: YA Historical Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin
Recommended for: Everyone
Buy @ Amazon
This was one of the relatively few books that, upon its release, I was absolutely desperate to have.
I loved Lesley Livingston's Wondrous Strange trilogy about modern day faeries, so I knew I would love this one too.
And I did.
Lesley is like a literary version of King Midas, only instead of turning stuff into gold, she turns her ideas (any idea) into a successful story with a winning combination of characters, strong plot, quality writing, and that little glimmer of magic that - I believe - is unique to the Young Adult genre.
Plus, this is just my kind of book. The main character has an aunt who works for the British Museum, has access to artifacts in said museum, and literally has the ability to make history come to life. And what period in history? Roman Britain, first century AD.
Excuse this part of the review, as the geektastic Amelia is about to take over. So, it is extremely hard to write about this period in British history, pretty much because as far as primary sources go, you have the Romans (biased) and...little else. Even though we're in the Anno Domini years, this part of Britain is still considered 'pre-history' due to the lack of written documents.
How in the world, then, is an author to write about a time period with little source material? Those druids? Technically, there's no hard evidence that they even existed. The daily life of the Iceni and other Celtic tribes? Not a lot of information.
Too many historical liberties, though, and the book will lose its believability. This is where Livingston really scored a touchdown in my eyes - she took a really mysterious part of history and turned it into something believable. If Once Every Never even had anachronisms, I certainly didn't catch them. The book read like the author did her research, and for a history major like me, that is a gargantuan plus.
The story begins with two girls spending the summer in London. The main character, Clare, is intelligent, but she kind of slacks off and is easily distracted, so she comes across as just a wee bit shallow. She is pretty grounded, but as soon as she sees one or two cute guys, she turns into a googly-eyed goof. Clare actually struck me as a calamity Jane kind of character - she's not a troublemaker, but trouble seems to find her anyway.
Here's a passage that really gave me a feel for her personality:

"In her ordinary life, surrounded by extraordinary people, Clare had never really taken much of a chance with anything important. Everyone she knew - everyone in her family, Al, Al's family, Maggie - they were all effortlessly competent and accomplished. So she'd learned at a young age not to risk doing anything too complicated. She could handle failing. She just couldn't handle failing spectacularly." (24)
I identified way more with her best friend Alice, who pretty much lives on the far right side of the Bell Curve. In all honesty, it took me awhile to warm up to Clare, but that's only because a full-access pass to the most famous museum in the world, and being within touching distance of some of the oldest, coolest artifacts (like the Snettisham Torc and the Bog Men!) would be my idea of paradise on earth, because you see, I'm completely geeky for history like that, and Clare...well, she was bored out of her mind. I'm serious, Clare's life had me salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs.
She can't stay bored for long, though, because she absentmindedly becomes a catalyst for some kind of time-traveling centuries-old "curse," and she finds herself smack in the middle of occupied Britain, coming face to face with the formidable Boudicca, and finding herself in the midst of a bloody war. Boudicca, queen of the Iceni, was definitely the most energetic character, and I like the way Lesley chose to portray her: not as a wounded, martyring queen, but as a bloodthirsty, prideful warrior who may or may not be one scout short of a posse (which apparently is a cool euphemism for 'crazy'). Whoa, this gal was ferocious! I mean, she'd have the White Witch sniveling into her inhaler gasping 'omg ur so meanz!'
Also, Boudicca's story, at least historically, is pretty tragic/graphic, and I do appreciate how Lesley didn't draw attention to certain aspects of it. The only reason I'm mentioning it is because it makes Once Every Never a book I could give to my students, too (with just a little comment on the language)

Just like in the Wondrous Strange series, Lesley populates her novel with a wide variety of well-crafted characters, and I won't spoil them for you by going into big detail, but everyone brought something to the story, and I liked that. There was a teeny weenie bit of a love triangle here, but it wasn't very pronounced. Still, I wouldn't have minded if Clare was maybe a little less boy-centric. She kind of switched affections from one guy (a Druid this case, they're not freaky-weird, but actually sensitive and handsome) to another (a buffed up nerd...still waiting for one of those to pop up in real life!), and I wouldn't have minded a little less of that, but wasn't an integral part of the story.
The only other character I *must* talk about is the villainy guy, another character who may or may not be one scout short of a posse - vain, eccentric historian (and white collar crime extraordinare), Dr. Morholt. This guy totally reminded me of a cross between Sherlock Holmes' Moriarty and real-life historian personality Simon Schama (the guy is like Beauty and the Beast's Cogsworth and Gaston rolled into one). I absolutely loved this guy. He was so entertaining :)
I think I've spazzed enough for one review. Excellent characters (Lesley did what I thought was impossible - she made a slacker into a lovable character for me!), a brilliant story (loaded with historical awesome juice, and quality writing.

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