Tag Archive | On Fortune’s Wheel

On Fortune’s Wheel: book review

This was one of my favorite love stories to read in my teens and early twenties. Maybe like the heroine, Birle, I just have a thing for men with blue eyes and lordly airs, but upon reading it again, I find the draw of the story has always been how both Birle and Orien adapt to each new circumstance as it comes. They adapt for different reasons at different times, sometimes for mere survival, other times because they have their lover’s safety and good in mind, as when Orien puts on a facade, belittling Birle before men who would harm her in order to divert their interests from her.

Cynthia Voigt’s books set in the medieval world of The Kingdom are set apart from other YA fiction both by how well she writes determined young people, their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, all hidden underneath a stoicism alien to many teens today, and by her choice to narrate in the third person. I’ve no objection to first person narrative, but too often it is used in young adult fiction as an “easy” way of connecting with how teens think, and often the efforts are cringeworthy and end up rapidly dating the books. Voigt’s Kingdom books were largely written in the 80s and early 90s, a time when there was a remoteness to youth that is nonexistent today in our culture of social media. In On Fortune’s Wheel, the characters have no one to share their thoughts with except themselves, and occasionally with each other. There’s an almost magical quality to this now, though it used to be how things ordinarily were.

As bewitched as fourteen-year-old Birle is by the older Orien, he is just as enchanted by her, eagerly discussing their different backgrounds and speculating on life with her as if she were his equal right from the start. Third person allows for subtlety that only works well in first person if the first person is an unreliable narrator. Voigt somehow accomplishes the feat of telling how Birle is falling in love with Orien, yet showing how he’s falling for her. It is only Birle who at the end of story is surprised to find that Orien has loved her all along. How easily even women in love doubt their men, but I suppose this is why the men always have to continually work at winning and keeping their women. Just a dynamic of the sexes.

Two other things I took from this reading of the story: People often see themselves in a far different light than they actually are. Both Orien and Birle consider their own faults heavily, but easily bear up under almost every new circumstance thrown their way. They are matched in their readiness to adapt to what must be done to survive, all the time considering themselves too idle, or too gentle towards others, and sometimes even too kind. Both characters continually sell themselves short, but by the end of the tale it is clear that those around them do not, and hold them in high esteem.

The other idea that struck me on this second reading was that people largely remain the same at their core, no matter what they go through. This is especially evident in Birle, who whether starving, a slave, or a rich lady, is not happy doing nothing, striving not to be a burden to those around her, but especially those she loves. In On Fortune’s Wheel she simply grows up into what she at fourteen already was, a independent and spirited young woman to wants to live life on her own terms. Orien, too, wished to live on his own terms, and their life together will be one of continually adapting to each other because that’s what they are choosing to do. It’s romantic in a way that is far deeper than flowers, chocolates, or even kisses ever could be.

Final decision: This book is a keeper and I will surely read it again and save it for my nieces when they are old enough to read it. Don’t even talk to me about how they changed the title. I can’t stand it, but I’m happy if teens are still reading the story.

2019 Summer Reading List

It’s maybe a little late for this, but I do have a reading list for the summer. Please note, this list doesn’t include books that I’m already reading, like, War & Peace by Tolstoy that’s been going on three years, now, and Wives & Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell that I’m just enjoying bit by bit. In the coming weeks my plan is to pursue the majority of these hopefully great reads:

  • The Great Stink by Clare Clark – murder mystery in the London sewers in the mid-1800s, what could be better?
  • Castle Danger by Chris Norbury – A thriller set on Minnesota’s North Shore. I can’t resist thriller set in places I’ve actually visited.
  • Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip by Peter Kessler – I read Hessler’s River Town while teaching in China and like his style.
  • Before I Wake by Dee Henderson – Christian murder mystery recommended to me by a friend. Eager to check out as I’m considering writing one myself.
  • The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson – Ever since reading Miss Buncle’s Book, I’ve become a fan of Stevenson’s quirky characters and often laugh-out-loud humor. This one’s set in a travel bookshop, and I’m likely to read it first as I adore the cover.
  • Emma by Jane Austen – Like any diehard Austen fan I tend to reread her works periodically. It’s been a good fifteen years cine I’ve read Emma, but I’ve enjoyed a few of the movies and miniseries based on the novel. My current favorite version is the one with Romola Garai (Atonement) and Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary).
  • City of Lies by Victoria Thompson – Romantic suspense set in the gaslight era and involving suffragettes, who always tend to be amusing.
  • The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins – I enjoyed his Woman in White, though found it a bit long. This one involves a mystery surrounding a diamond.
  • Ben Hur by Lew Wallace – The copy I have is abridged, so I’m not sure how much was cut out, but I am looking forward to reading it. I really only know it involves a chariot race.
  • On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt – We are quite firmly now in both summer and the wedding season, so I thought’d I’d give this another go.

As for other reviews coming up, I have started the K-dramas Mother and Chicago Typewriter, both of which are very promising. I also plan to have reviews out soon on a fantastic book called Drop of Night and one on Acorn’s Agatha Christie’s: Partners in Crime TV miniseries.

A Rose by Any Other Name: A Rant on Titles

It’s like people are determined to ruin my childhood or something. Okay, okay, drama aside, let me explain. The books, the books that defined my teenage years for me were, okay, yes, the Anne of Green Gables series, and, yes, Little House on the Prairie, and various teen romance series that were probably too steamy for me to be reading, and Robin Cook thrillers, and Isaac Asimov sci-fi extravaganzas… but I digress. Where was I? The series that I loved, one of those that almost clammer for a screen adaptation, but resolve themselves to staying literature only, was The Kingdom series by Cynthia Voigt.

What I loved about the series was mostly the second book, On Fortune’s Wheel, which is terribly romantic, but the third book, The Wings of a Falcon ended up ultimately being my favorite as I got older. Something about two friends making it through everything…it just sticks with me to this day. The first book is Jackaroo, the plot of which at first seems like a knockoff of Robin Hood. And it is, sort of, but the world of The Kingdom, quiet, contemplative, and somewhat melancholy, draws you in. The series just has this rare quality of making the reader feel like you are there. You are going through this, too. This quality is likely why Voigt is such a successful writer of young adult stories.

Anyway, I learned today, just in looking up the series to see if I wanted to buy newer copies, that um, they’ve changed the titles. All of them. Well, the fourth book, Elske, is now The Tale of Elske, and it’s my least favorite of the series, so that one didn’t disappoint me too much.  But the others! I just can’t believe it! Jackaroo, On Fortune’s Wheel, and The Wings of a Falcon have all been changed to The Tale of Gwyn, The Tale of Birle, and The Tale of Oriel. Three wonderful, intriguing titles exchanged for stupidly bland titles that fail to reflect the fact that The Kingdom books, although set in the same world, aren’t sequels, aren’t part of a large, overarching quest or plot, and are each really their own stories almost entirely. It’s almost as stupid as changing D.M. Cornish’s awesome series title Monster Blood Tattoo into Tales from the Half-Continent.

Why do publishers or authors or whoever do this? Blander titles are supposed to sell more books? Really? It would be like me changing my series, Trolls for Dust, to Vale Studios. Boring! Now, if they’d changed them to more interesting titles, I would maybe be on board, but this… Well, my childhood is long over, anyway, and one can’t go back, not really. My memories of those happy reading days will have to suffice. I will treasure my dog-eared original titles and refuse to replace them unless they become absolutely unreadable due to wear and tear.

This winter I want to read the entire series again and go through for you what I love about it and why you or your teenagers might like it too. They will be the same stories, despite the names being changed, but I disagree with Juliet. Names of things matter. Names show identity, they show who you belong to, who loves you, sometimes who hates you. Names can be blessings or curses, beatifying or insulting, and changing a book’s title is no small thing, just like changing one’s own name is no small thing. It is a transformation no matter how one looks at it. The object or person is simply different after. Most of the time, I hope, for the better, but this required a rant because the original titles are infinitely more suitable for the series, and the new titles woefully inadequate. And don’t even get me started on the new covers.

The Kingdom

The covers and titles I grew up with.