One of the wonderful things about being a bookworm online is that when someone gets excited about a book, we can all pile in and read along. Lovely Lynn of Little Lion Lynnet’s is our ringleader for this week’s discussion of Of Oysters, Pearls and Magic (book one of The Tale of Yin). We’ll be reading for the next three weeks if you’d like to join us.
Before I get stuck into this week’s questions, I want to say that this pretty much had me at hello (in spite of a few irritating lapses of tense). The prose is sparsely lyrical – there’s a stripped back simplicity that unfolds like a Japanese-wrapped gift to reveal things that quietly delight. I’m looking forward to next week already. But first, this week’s discussion:
Of Oysters, Pearls and Magic is a quiet piece, quite unlike what we might be used to reading. What did you make of the change in pace?
I relished the gentle tale – it came at just the right time (a busy week involving a transatlantic business trip, so long flights and bags of jetlag) and in the middle of a number of frenetic reads (Broken Banners, Chameleon Moon). It was like a palate cleanser or soul balm – it’s not that Mirra’s experiences aren’t challenging or intensely personal, but the story is told in such a way that it’s gentle and comforting. The focus is on her life, not on her conflict. I loved it.
Magic systems are always one of the most fascinating things to discuss. What did you think of the book’s shape-based system? Does it remind you of anything or is it entirely new?
The magic system felt new to me, although I have a little image in my mind’s eye of something vaguely similar (I can’t quite put my finger on it – it was from an anime or a movie, I think, but felt far more violent than Mirra’s light curling).
I’m also not entirely clear from the first book how the magic system works across the different students at the school – I’m sort of assuming that it is expressed differently across the different elements the students have affinity with, and I’d like to get a feeling for how that plays out. I hope to see more magic at work!
Oysters are obviously important to Mirra. Do you think you’ll be trying any of the recipes in the book?
The food all sounded amazing, but I’m a terribly impatient cook – any recipe that calls for hours of simmering and skimming is one I’m unlikely to try (however, oyster fritters… maybe!). One of my favourite things about the book was the way the recipes for food and household items (the oyster candles) were interspersed with the narrative. Along with the reflective tone of the prose, it was very grounding, making it feel like Mirra looking back on her life or keeping a diary, rather than a story being written for an audience.
The description of the duology suggests that these novellas are ones of compassion. How do you feel that relates to Mirra?
I found Mirra very self-focused (and I don’t mean that in a bad way). She has to keep her secret from her family, she is forced to be self-reliant, and she keeps a lid on her feelings to help her cope with rejection. She needs to learn to open up to others, both by being unafraid to cherish them and by accepting their love for her. I loved the scenes in which she returns to her village and her understanding of the world shifts.