Friday, May 31, 2013

Book #21: Brazil - The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Round the World Wednesday! Is it still Wednesday anywhere in the world? No? Oh well. Today is Honorary Wednesday.

The Summer Prince is another of those books that evokes a place so viscerally that you think I want to go there, even if the 'there' is a few hundred years in the future, a parallel world or some undefined historical time. So, I'd like to go to Brazil now. I want to see Palmares Três, the jewel on the bay, the pyramid city of lights. Though possibly not with the bloodshed that goes with it.

The book is set in Brazil at least four hundred years in the future, where everything is life and death, love and hate, moving forward and holding back. The main character, June, is a young artist in a city ruled by grande women, where anyone below the age of thirty is not taken seriously. Every five years, the populace elects a king, and after a year of his rule, he chooses the next queen and is sacrificed. The system is quite logical, really - someone who is about to die is less likely to be swayed by politics.

It's an election year, but not just any election year. This year the king will be a waka, under thirty, and his sacrifice will serve only to continue the reign of the incumbent queen. He will have no true power to choose another queen, but for a year he will be the most priveleged of the youth of Palmares Três.

June votes for Enki, and is ecstatic when he wins. She's already half in love with him, but Enki falls in love with her best friend Gil and she's not quite sure where she stands. She throws herself into making Art, recognising that Enki is as much an artist as she with the way he moves and influences the crowds. They become collaborators on sensational projects, and Art is at its best when it creates a sensation. Or a revolution.

Enki is hurtling headlong towards death, but he is the most vital character in all senses of the word. He helps June understand what's important, and the reader along with her.

Palmares Três is most desperately, incredibly alive, with its dancing wakas and ritual sacrifice. I love the way Johnson communicates that, with the blocos and the graffiti and the secret ninja art projects. I also love the way she weaves Portuguese into the text, making it clear that English is a foreign language to her characters.

Any books you know and love that are set in Brazil?

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