Monday, September 30, 2019

Book Review: Thunder on the Right by Mary Stewart

Thunder on the RightThunder on the Right by Mary  Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are poorly marked spoilers in this review:

I enjoyed reading this on Kindle. Probably really a 3.5. I liked it but there are better Mary Stewart books out there.

Great literature? No, but Stewart is talented enough to give us beautiful elements when we're careful enough to read them. She knew she was writing a Gothic and refers us to Ann Radcliffe enough times that we know it, too.

But the story is more elemental than even that. She makes a heavy emphasis on earth and to a lesser extent water. [We meet Cambridge geologists conversing in the very opening of the book. They are, you might say grounded in the present. Nothing fanciful or terrifying or eventful will happen to them. They recur again at the end to show us that this interlude of Jenny's was outside the domain of the real. We have a man-induced "avalanche" that attacks our protagonists and then a mountain-made avalance where the mountain makes itself known. But our geologists aren't discussing the event beyond the composition of the rocks themselves. This is not our first rocky escapade - rocks center in the whole scenario in the car accident that creates the scenario. We see the power of the river in the storm at the bridge. The water threatens to drown those who dare disrespect the river and her boundaries. (hide spoiler)] The ground and the water push the plot at times, even the air if you consider the storm. There are fire elements as well in lanterns, gems, and torches. The four ancient elements are involved in the brackets to the story.

Really, I think Stewart wants to discuss light and how we see. It wasn't very far in that I noticed she was mentioning the lightness, or darkness, or moonlight, or sun, how there was red light or blue light and shadow. How the light affects the character's view, mood, perceptions, understanding. How the characters use different kinds of light for protection, support, inspiration. How fear or ferocity were stirred up by the atmosphere felt in the light.
The title seems to be talking about the Greeks and their belief that hearing thunder on the right is a good omen. If facing North, that means the storm is past. Stephen and Jenny hear thunder on the right and it bolsters confidence. [ The storm of knowing whether they both love - we've long known of Stephen's but we and she finally confirm Jenny's - has resolved and that resolution allows them to go forward as a team. They may be physically separated for the trial ahead, but they are still together in purpose. Stephen recognizes the Thunder on the Right, the storm past, and uses it to help Jenny move forward in what must be done. That this is closer to the center of the book may hide the fact that it is the height of the story. Stewart even names the chapter "Entr'acte: con amore." It seems as though it is a break, rest, breath but really it is the story itself. (hide spoiler)]

I liked Stephen who was imperfect but loved, and Jenny who was oblivious until the obvious awoke her. Is this the best Mary Stewart book? No. Is she heavy handed? Yes - a second book for sure. Is it quite good for its genre? Yes. Stewart is talented with imagery and descriptive language; there are beautiful passages. She brings a depth of symbol and beauty to a genre that can be skimmed on the surface for the story, but in this case ought not be.

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