book reviews by Althea

Aria of the Sea – Dia Calhoun ***

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Picked this up because it won the Mythopoeic award.
It was OK, but didn’t really live up to my expectations – the storyline was just too familiar, and the worldbuilding was only so-so. It’s one of those stories where it really didn’t even need to be set in a ‘fantasy’ world; the fantasy aspect is quite beside the point.

It’s also very, very message-y. I don’t object to the message at all (“follow your own dreams and talents, rather than feeling that you have to live up to others’ expectations”), but the attitude of “I will give young girls an important lesson through this book” is a bit overwhelming.

Plot elements follow:
Aria is a poor, small-town girl. She has experience helping her mother with herbs and healing; but she also has a talent for dancing. Her mother dreams of her daughter having the opportunity to go to the big city and study dancing.
When her mother dies, Aria’s father does everything he can to facilitate that. Aria goes to the city with him and auditions at the ballet school. Although it’s obvious as hell that she’s a shoo-in, she believes some nasty bullies’ false tale that she’s not picked as a student, runs away, and ends up working as a laundress at the school.
However, in an abrupt reversal of fortune, she is re-discovered and enrolled in the school, where she quickly rises to success (to the ongoing dismay of the bullies).
However, she also finds herself drawn to assisting a physician, a role where she can use her other talents. It turns out that Aria blames herself for her mother’s death, and has lost confidence in her ability to heal.

As events come to a head, Aria must deal with the bullies, gain confidence in herself, ditch her domineering boyfriend, improve the working conditions of laundresses, and choose between her two talents. The right choice leads to happiness and spiritual fulfillment.

It’s a nice, feel-good story, but although the author seems like she’s trying very hard to give Aria difficult dilemmas, the “right choice” is always blindingly clear. If only real life were so simple


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