Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book Review: The Halfmen of O by Maurice Gee

Do you remember when you were little and you watched Fern Gully for the first time and it was the most magical and visually stunning thing you had ever seen? Then you tried to relive the magic when you were all grown up and it was poor quality (because you're watching it on video) and dull with a very simple story? Well I am afraid that that is how I felt about The 'Halfmen of O' by Maurice Gee. When I was in grade 5 we read this as a class and I loved every minute of it. However I moved to another city and subsequently left the class before we finished and I have wanted to finish it ever since. So I took the opportunity of the Once Upon A Time IV Challenge as the perfect opportunity. Oh how I wish it was perfect.

The blurb of this book reads...
Susan has always been a bit odd and never really got on with her cousin Nick, but the mark on her wrist draws them together in a frightening adventure. They are summoned to the beautiful land of O in a last-ditch attempt to save the planet from cruel Otis Claw and his followers, the evil Halfmen, who have lost every trace of human goodness and kindness.
I don't quite know what to say about this book because it is a children's fantasy book, which is a genre I haven't read since I was a child myself. The book is average length for a children's/YA novel, 186 pages, so the action begins and finishes very quickly. I felt that the writing wasn't stellar, however it was appropriate for its target audience. I will be the first to admit (and I've said it before) that I am far from an expert on the fantasy genre but I felt that this book had all the fundamental elements of a fantasy. A young heroine who rises to a mammoth task, another world, strange creatures, lots of things that warrant capital letters (the Halves, the Motherstone) and people wearing cloaks. But I am not able to discern if this makes it an original and unique children's fantasy, or a run-of-the-mill adventure book set on another planet.

What I liked: The land of O was beautifully described and made out to be a beautiful planet. It seemed to me reminiscent of Pandora, of Avatar fame (which I haven't seen), or Fern Gully. O was so diverse and full of different and fantastical species, the Halfmen, the Woodlanders, the Birdfolk, the Stonefolk and the Seafolk, and their quest took them to such different environments throughout the land. Susan was a worthy heroine and got appropriately drawn in to the drama and enormity of her task.

Image from here

Image from here

What I didn't like: Nick. Possibly one of the most annoying characters I have ever read. He was so full of his self importance, yet obviously an idiot (harsh?). He tried to be protective and noble but had his own agenda (of being the protective and noble) and stated the obvious ALL THE DAMN TIME!! All the big action bits were over in a couple of pages and there was always a convenient solution to the bigger challenges. I never felt the suspense, worried for the characters or wanted them to complete their task.

So... the biggest letdown for me was the memory. I think if I had finished it when I was 11 I would have just loveloveloved it. I am giving this a big yes for the 10-13 age group but sadly a no for me at this age. Maurice Gee is a New Zealand author and this book was first published in 1982. It won a few awards back in the day, but I haven't seen it in any book shops recently, nor have any of my friends read it. Though I didn't love it myself, I think this book is too good to be forgotten. I am interested to hear of anyone else out there who has read this? What did you think?


Ash said...

It's funny how one character can completely ruin a book for you. I recently experienced that myself. I know what you mean about a book being right for a certain age group too. I just finished Fifteen by Beverly Clearly and I hated it! But I know a lot of people loved it and maybe if I had read when I was about 13 I would have thought it was great.

Nymeth said...

I have to confess I hadn't heard of Maurice Gee, but as I'm still a big of children's and YA fantasy I should probably keep an eye out for him. I'm sorry about the annoying character, but this sounds interesting all the same.

Jen said...

Oh my gosh I love your blog the background is gorgeous!!!

I'm very intrigued by this book though I think I'm already annoyed by Nick, hehe and I haven't even read it yet!!!

I loved Fern Gully & Avatar by the way... Fern Gully brings back memories!!

Elise said...

Ash - it is very disappointing when a character can ruin a whole book for you! I'm sure he didn't annoy me so much last time.

Nymeth - It is certainly a really interesting book, and a really good read for the most part. I imagine it is quite difficult to find these days, it seems to have become a bit forgotten.

Jen - thanks!! I would still recommend reading this book, despite Nick.

Charlotte said...

I've heard of this book off and on for the past few decades, but never actually sought it out...I am tempted to now!

R.A.D.I.C.A.L Room 9 at Summerland said...

Nice review

click my link to check out our reviews of the half men of o

Luin On said...

I'm re-reading this right now! It was a childhood favorite, but like yourself, I was disappointed to find that it hasn't held up over time. The writing is too flat. The characterization of the children: flat. There's all the stock cliche elements of fantasy, e.g. "the chosen one" returning to save an entire species of people, a journey, a wise sage explaining the history of the place to the foreigners (children). The writing is a bit too placid, even when describing the Jasper Jones character...you never feel any real terror for the children

Unknown said...

I felt the same about this book when I read it for my children's literature class. We went to New Zealand and studied the "power of place," how New Zealand's own unique identity influences its literature. I found the trilogy a bit of a chore to get through, but I really enjoy his more recent Salt trilogy. It's a bit more unique & less "chronicles of narnia." New Zealand authors are absolutely fantastic on the whole though, and I would recommend reading anything New Zealand you can access here in the states. Sadly, the majority of great Kiwi lit won't be published for US readers.

Anonymous said...

I was just about to write my own review of this book on my blog, so you have got there first!
I do agree about a slight disappointment on reading it as an adult - I remember reading it as a child and having nightmares strong enough to make me hesitate to pick it up again.
This time however, it read as a good adventure story, I thought, and perhaps a good intruction to the larger fanatsy works like The Lord of the Rings.

Read hunter said...

I read the trilogy back in primary school and loved it,so its interesting to read your analogy about fern gully.Given I enjoyed the stories in my youth I'm not going to read it again now. It's probably best left in another time. Maurice Gee has written a number of other good youth stories too like Under the Mountain.