Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Hidden World [Amazon, Publisher] by Paul Park, book 4 in the A Princess of Roumania series.
The final volume of four in Paul Park’s Roumania series affords many outcomes and resolutions, but readers of the earlier books will not be surprised that it avoids a tidy ending. My Other Reader remarked my unusual facial expression while I was reading the antepenultimate chapter “The Exorcism,” and I guess I really did find it sort of horrifying. A lot of characters die in these books, but given the nature of the magic here, their deaths in no way remove them as agents from the continuing story. Where a traditional fantasy might have its protagonist’s aims clarified and streamlined over the course of its telling, this one just becomes more crowded with possible motivations and relationships.
As in what has come before, the characters here are highly imperfect, alluring, and surprising. Fascist strongman Victor Bocu steps into the limelight as a villain, and Chloe Adira with her household complicates Peter’s story. The setting remains original and provocative. Its manifold European war draws on more advanced African technologies. The alchemical legacies of the conjurors Newton and Kepler guide the coven attempting to engineer national and international destinies.
The arc of the four books seems to be something like this: In A Princess of Roumania the three apparent teenagers are displaced from somewhere like our Massachusetts into the “real” world where Roumania is. In The Tourmaline, their “real” adult personalities are ascendant, and they become embroiled in the political and sorcerous intrigues of Roumania itself. In The White Tyger they acquire more confidence and begin to integrate their Massachusetts memories with their resumed life histories in Roumania, and that integration reaches its fruition in The Hidden World. The completion of the arc is very remote from a happily-ever-after, and the aims of these books clearly differ from most of what dresses as fantasy literature.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The White Tyger [Amazon, Publisher] by Paul Park, book 3 of the Roumania series.
The title of this third volume of Paul Park’s Roumania series has multiple meanings. The White Tiger is the hereditary role and spiritual alter-ego of the protagonist Miranda. But the political dimension of this role has been usurped by the Baroness Ceausescu, who is at the center of the palace intrigue that makes up the meat of this book. And she is at work throughout on the autobiographical music opera named The White Tyger, often allowing its themes and speeches to eclipse her perceptions of her immediate circumstance. The play-within-a-play theme exhibits self-similarity in parallel to the relationships between Roumania and our own secondary universe as created by Aegypta Schenck, as well as the material world and the “hidden world” of sorcery.
A process continues here, whereby the central three characters regain their Roumanian identities in priority over those they had been given during their sojourn in the Massachusetts of our abolished constructed world–but not without some complications and regressions. Also, the political conditions in Roumania change as relations alter among the European powers, and a new and ugly form of nationalism is ascendant in Miranda’s country, facilitated by the Baroness but not under her control.
This third book resolved in a manner very similar to that of the second one, The Tourmaline, but with a sense that the fourth and final volume must have a very different outcome.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Tourmaline [Amazon] by Paul Park.
I was dubious about the “YA” designation for the first book of Paul Park’s Roumania series–a label not asserted by either the author or the publisher as far as I can tell. This second volume demonstrates that it just doesn’t apply. The story is a decidedly mature fantasy, even if it includes some youngish characters. I don’t know if it makes much of a difference now that there is a significant reading demographic of “old adults” who prefer “YA” books, but since I’m not one of those, I figured I might question the label.
It took me over a year to get to this second volume after reading A Princess of Roumania, but the narrative was able to bring me back into the plot efficiently enough, and my slight fuzziness on what had gone before actually kept me sympathetic to the main characters whose perspectives were stressed and transformed over the course of the story.
In The Tourmaline there is a considerable development of definition and detail for the alternate-historical aspects of the Roumanian world. Africa is more technologically advanced than Europe. Christianity, such as it is, seems to be a hero cult within a persistent Roman paganism. This book also provides more clarity on the properties and powers of “the hidden world” that is the basis of its supernatural magic.
The end of this book is the mid-point of the four-volume series, and it resolves in a peculiar way, seeming to present the defeat of the principal villains, without corresponding triumph for the heroes. I’ll be taking a breather before The White Tyger, but hopefully not for as long as I let pass between the first two books.
Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park.
A Princess of Roumania is the opening of a multi-volume fantasy work by Paul Park. It is an ambitious portal fantasy, with a protagonist who is a teenage girl–in our world, anyway. It postulates a reality of which ours is a disposable alternative. It’s an interesting match for my recent viewing of the (commendable) first two seasons of the Amazon television series based on PKD’s Man in the High Castle. In the world where Roumania and Germany struggle for supremacy in Europe, sorcery is possible (though illicit) and mastodons roam a barely-settled North America. The means of transition from one world to the other is a book, with considerable metafictional implication (again, compare The Man in the High Castle).
The heroine Miranda is named after the author’s daughter, and the New England town where the story starts is a match for one in which the author has lived. I was alerted to these para-autobiographical elements by John Crowley’s essay on Park’s fantasy (included in the book Totalitopia), and it was this essay that led me to read the book in the first place. Miranda is reasonably sympathetic, but the strongest characterization in the book is for the villain (?) Baroness Ceaucescu. The omniscient narrator jumps around quite a lot, and the two main viewpoint threads are those for Miranda and the Baroness.
I liked this book very much, and while it would probably satisfy the YA fantasy market these days, it seemed like mature fare to me. It is, as I mentioned at the outset, only a beginning. Despite its considerable length, there is little resolution of the plot, although there are some deaths of principal characters and other crucial events. I expect to continue reading this work, borrowing the subsequent volumes from the public library in due course, while I hope to pass on my copy of the first one to a sympathetic reader.