Stoneheart by Charlie Fletcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A couple of weeks ago I read Jack Flint and the Redthorn Sword and gave it two stars (my review here), now I read Stoneheart and give it four, yet I see their overall ratings in GoodReads are not dissimilar. What's the difference?
On the face of it there are a lot of similarities: both books have a protagonist about the same age. Jack Flint is 13, George Chapman in Stoneheart is 12, In both the protagonist steps out of the normal world of school and teachers and homework into a strange fantasy world full of danger. And both encounter a rather aggressive girl in the other world. But of the two I enjoyed Stoneheart more. So I'm trying to put my finger on the difference.
George Chapman and Jack Flint are both bullied in the everyday world, but learn to be brave in the fantasy world. There are other similarities. There is a quest, a task that must be accomplished before normality can return. There are allies and enemies, and there are betrayals and suspected betrayals. There is a talisman, or a mcguffin if you prefer, an object that has to be sought that is supposed to solve the main problem.
There are also differences in the setting. Jack Flint's other world is really other, with different geography, different rulers and government, different society and social structure. George Chapman's world is London in the 21st century (though one which still has Routemaster buses with a rear platform), but it is a London in which statues come to life and war among themselves, though the everyday citizens of London are quite unaware of it. The premiss is even more fantastic than Jack Flint's world, but I think the main difference is that it is more consistently handled.
Another similarity is that both books are described as forming part of a trilogy. I'm not sure that that is the best description, though. They are more like The Lord of the Rings, a single book divided into three volumes for convenience. The story continues from the first volume, and I don't think I'll finish either, because I didn't see the second volume in the library I borrowed them from. In the case of the Jack Flint one, that does not bother me much, but I would like to read the sequel to Stoneheart.
Both these books belong to the same general genre of children's fantasy stories, and one reason for my interest in reading such stories at the moment is that I am writing sequels to my own children's fantasy story, Of Wheels and Witches, and I'm busy putting the finishing touches to the second volume, The Enchanted Grove. So I'm reading books in a similar genre to see what I like about them and what I don't, what seems to work and what doesn't.
One thing that strikes me about the character of George Chapman is that it reminds me of Jordan Peterson's ideal of being the top lobster. George's character development in the story seems to be from Peterson's loser lobster in the beginning to something more resembling the top lobster by the end of the book. And that seems to encapsulate the secular values espoused by Jordan Peterson and personified by Donald Trump, and admired by Trump's admirers and supporters. For such people, winning is not the most important thing, it's the only thing. Winners are to be admired, and losers are to be despised, which is why Donald Trump simply cannot face the fact of losing the 2020 US presidential election.
Such a view has also been sacralised in the new prosperitarian theology that has come to dominate much Western (and African) theology since about 1980 -- the gospel contextualised for Neoliberalism.
So though I think Stoneheart is better written, and "works" as a story better than the Jack Flint one, I do have reservations about the kind of character George Chapman seems to be becoming and the values on which that is based.
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