Ted and his sister, Kat, wave to their cousin, Salim, as Salim gets on the London Eye. Half an hour later, Salim’s pod comes back down – but there’s no sign of Salim. Their parents, Salim’s mom, and eventually the police start looking for the missing boy, but no one is really listening to Ted and Kat – nor are they paying attention to the most interesting part of the mystery: that Salim disappeared from out of a sealed pod. Naturally, this means that the kids must launch an investigation of their own.

It’s a pretty clever mystery, but that’s not why the book stands out: it stands out because of the autistic narrator. Ted’s Asperger’s Syndrome (presumably; instead of naming it, it’s just called “my Syndrome” or “what he has,” which I find rather annoying) means that he sees the world differently; we see his constant struggle to interpret social cues, facial expressions, and body language. We also see him making connections that no one else does – and thus solving the mystery. It’s very well done, but I found my (non-autistic) brain getting really tired from trying to wrap itself around a different way of thinking.

I really want to say something here connecting the experience of reading The London Eye Mystery – and, therefore, being immersed in an autistic way of thinking for 300 pages – to how people with autism are constantly immersed in a society that, collectively, has a non-autistic way of thinking. I’m not sure I can actually do so without seeming presumptuous – even having read this book, even having autistic acquaintances, I really don’t know what it’s like to be autistic, and I don’t want to pretend that I do. So I’ll leave it to you to draw inferences, in whatever way works for your brain.

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Siobhan Dowd ~ The London Eye Mystery
My review of Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child

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Thirty-five years before Lyra Belacqua stumbled into his life in The Golden Compass, Lee Scoresby won a hot-air balloon in a poker game. Off he goes to the Arctic looking for work and adventure. Adventure he finds; whether or not you consider what he’s doing work, I don’t know. Oh, and he meets Iorek Byrnison for the first time.

If you read Pullman only for the theology and eschatology, don’t bother with this one; there’s not much to it. It’s a straightforward story, fun and short. Enjoy it for what it is, and don’t look for anything more.

Oh, and it comes with a game, and that’s pretty damn cool.

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Philip Pullman
Once Upon a Time in the North

Ulster, 1981. Not history’s most gentle moment.

Ireland, 80 CE. Not history’s most gentle moment, either.

Of course, the gentle moments are rarely interesting.

Bog Child centers around Fergus as his life centers around his A-Levels¹, the Troubles², and, increasingly, the preserved body of a girl he found in the bog. Fergus is being pulled every which way, caught between the knowledge of his brother on a hunger-strike in jail; his growing friendship with a Welsh soldier on border-duty; his own desire to get out of Ireland and into Medical School; the companionship of the archeologist who comes to investigate the mysterious first-century bog body, the archeologist’s daughter, and his dreams of the girl in the ground.

The book’s treatment of the Troubles is very strong.  The sense of entrapment is palpable, as is the heady mix of absolute love for Ireland and absolute despair over what’s happening in Ireland. Fergus and his family and friends are all staunchly Republican³, but it’s fascinating to see the shifting lines of commitment and ideas.  A lot is left unsaid, but that’s as it should be – instead of being told, we’re right there with Fergus as he has to deal with the political climate and his family’s role in it.

Into all this is tied the story of Mel, the bog child, told through dreams and visions had by Fergus.  I can’t help but think the book would have been stronger without the dream plot device, either with the flashbacks simply existing as their own thing between Fergus chapters or even entirely without them – they’re overshadowed by Fergus anyway.   I’m also not without qualms as to the historical accuracy; I didn’t see any glaring issues, either with the narrative or the archeology, but there were a few things which had me straining to remember details of bog people, Iron Age Ireland, and ancient Irish, Celtic, and Germanic art.  While there’s a brief historical note on the hunger strike, there’s nothing about the subjects covered in the flashbacks, and the only sources she sites are a BBC documentary and a book from 1969. Basically, I’m withholding judgment on the historical accuracy until I’ve had a chance to run it by the friend who actually took Irish archeology – much of what I know I learned from helping her study.

But it’s not Mel’s book, it’s Fergus’s.  And Fergus’s book is worth a read.

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¹Advanced-Level examinations which UK students need to pass to go to college.  Think NEWTs, only without the magic.

²The violence and chaos in Northern Ireland from the 1960s through 1998. The Catholic minority of Ulster was primarily Nationalist and wanted to join the (primarily Catholic) Irish Republic, while the Protestant majority was primarily Unionist and wanted to stay part of the United Kingdom. Cue bombings, riots, and hunger strikes.

³In the Irish Nationalist sense, not the American Right-Wing Conservative sense.