Sunday, 19 June 2011

Review/Rave/Ramble - Alexandra Quick Series, by Inverarity

Summary; A Harry Potter fanfiction series that has next to nothing to do with Harry Potter. A helluva lot Better Than It Sounds. (Currently numbers at three novels out of a planned seven; Alexandra Quick And The Thorn Circle, Alexandra Quick And The Lands Below and Alexandra Quick And The Deathly Regiment.)

The war against Voldemort never reached America, but all is not well there. When 11-year-old Alexandra Quick learns she is a witch, she is plunged into a world of prejudices, intrigue and danger. Who wants Alexandra dead, and why?

Instead of revising for that ever evasive Chemistry A-grade, I've discovered a new fanfiction series to obsess over. Yay for the wonders of Internet procrastination.

Inverarity's Alexandra Quick American fan-fiction series, titular protagonist Alex Quick learns she is a witch, attends a prestigious magical school, forms a close group of friends, discovers her tangled family history and tries to defeat a Big Bad of a Dark Wizard along the way.

Sound familiar?

On the face of it, Alexandra Quick sounds like a rip-off of Harry Potter transplanted into an American setting. However, despite sharing superficial similarities to its inspiration series, Alexandra Quick soon develops its own tone and mould... ending up travelling in quite a different direction to Harry Potter.

Alexandra herself is the series' greatest strength and a terrific protagonist.  Inverarity seems to have been aware right from the start about the stigma associated with female fan-fiction OCs (ie that they have a tendency to be blatant Mary Sues) and has gone out of his way to make Alexandra the complete opposite. It's arguably possible to view Alexandra as the deconstruction of the Jerk Sue; she is temperamental, gutsy, assertive and determined, as well as powerful in terms of raw magic, and damn does she suffer for this. Seriously, Inverarity could rival Jim Butcher and Joss Whedon in the amount of trauma he likes to inflict upon his main character. (He also likes to lean on the fourth-wall and tease about Mary Sue implications; Alex's teacher once writes her a letter explicitly stating she is not a "special snowflake" - a common fandom term for Mary Sues.) However, despite all Alexandra's flaws, she remains an essentially likable protagonist, due to A) the sheer amount of pain she goes through and the determined way she navigates through it, and B) she has very human desires; most of her motivations come through wanting to be reunited with her family.

Alexandra's difficulties are not the only demonstration of series' approaching from a darker angle earlier than Harry Potter. Unlike its inspiration series, which Grew The Beard during Prisoner Of Azkaban and Goblet Of Fire, Alexandra Quick starts out dark and descends into even deeper tangled territory. Much of this comes from Inverarity's deconstruction of various throwaway tropes in JKR's Harry Potter; for example, (sort-of) Muggle-born Alexandra is unable to truly tell her mother and step-father about witchcraft and the magical world, making for a very lonely young teenager. It's a rather tragic and realistic way of the integration of magical and Muggle-cultures; something that - due to lack of involvement of Hermione's parents - is never touched upon in Harry Potter. (And if you want to get all Buffy with the magic-is-a-metaphor for growing up schtick, I suppose it's a comment a big part of adolescence means a growing distance from your parents.)

What does elevate this series above the typical Harry-Potter-In-America fanfic - and is something JKR never quite managed even in the later Harry Potter novels - is the blurring of good and evil, and the grey against grey morality of the adult factions struggling to gain control over the American wizarding world. Abraham Thorn, Dark Wizard and major villain, is of an entirely different brand to Lord Voldemort. Whereas Voldemort is a personification of pure evil, Abraham Thorn is more a well-intentioned terrorist and strangely relevant to today's culture. Indeed, the Big Reveal of Deathly Regiment serves to highlight that Thorn is fighting very real evils against the bureaucratic government of supposed good guys of the Confederation. It's a far cry from Harry Potter, where the lines of good versus evil are evident, and the Ministry are merely a bumbling idiots who only serve the purpose to complicate the heroes fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters.

Yet although Inverarity's writing serves to highlight JKR's flaws, Harry Potter too makes plain the problems with Alexandra Quick's universe. Harry Potter's greatest strength by far was JKR's creation of the Harry-Ron-Hermione Trio, and unfortunately, Alexandra Quick fails to replicate this with Alexandra's friendships and relationships; Alex's best friend Anna Chu is the only friend to get any real development throughout the entire series so far, and even she is often demoted to follower rather than true accomplice. David Washington remains static throughout the novels, and despite having an entertaining personality and good sense of humor, is given little to do and little character development. (It's a shame, considering the development given to Alex and Anna). Alex's Ozarker friends Constance and Forbearance Pritchard also change little throughout the stories, although offering slightly more to the plot than David. It's a major contrast to Harry Potter, where the heart of the series lay in the closeness and development of Harry, Ron and Hermione. This issue is definitely visible to a reader comparing the two series, and the story - Deathly Regiment in particular - suffers as a result.

It's a shame, as the rest of the world-building is magnificent - like how JKR's wizarding society had a certain Britishness towards it, Inverarity's depiction of wizarding America has a distinctly American feel. The creation of the Confederation, the Cultures, the political atmosphere, and the depiction of the Ozarkers are terrific, and there's a few sad and hilarious touches (like the ghosts of the Colonials and Indians regularly holding battles). For most part, the story, universe and characters are all at once good fun and quite clever. It's just a shame that the relationships between the characters don't get nearly as much attention and development.

4/5. Alexandra Quick is not without flaws, but the writing has significantly improved with each installment, and is overall an extremely enjoyable read.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for the review, Phoebe. It's always wonderful to read a long, thoughtful review of my stories. I essentially agree with everything you said, particularly the difficulties I have had in establishing the same chemistry between Alex and her circle that Rowling achieved with the Trio. Part of the problem is that I gave Alexandra a larger inner circle, but part of it is that I created all these characters and then tend to sideline them because of Alexandra's tendency to go off and do things by herself.

    In book four, "Alexandra Quick and the Stars Above," I have tried to give her friends a more active role (though there is a long stretch where once again Alexandra runs off on a solo adventure), and hopefully you will see more evidence of character development, particularly with David and the Pritchards.

    I hope you continue to enjoy the series. :)