Book Review: The Brides of Maracoor

This book was a pleasure to read.

This review was originally posted by me on Goodreads and has been edited for clarity. The book is by Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked, and is part of the same universe. It is the first book by Maguire that I have read. I gave it four stars.

The prose is almost like poetry, but not purple. Not hard to plough through; it draws you through. The psychology is amazing. So is the portrayal of a sort of ancient-Greece-based world. I picked up this book for the brides, who are sort of like pagan nuns (Vestal Virgins?) living all alone on a remote island, performing bloodletting and weaving rituals in order to guard a sacred artifact.

Every morning, the “brides,” who range in age from ten to about eighty, troop down to the seaside where they use sawgrass to cut crosshatched lines into the soles of their feet. Then they sit with their injured feet in the salt water and tie seaweed into a net. This ritual supposedly “weaves time” so that the world can go on. The brides are almost entirely self-sufficient, keeping gardens, goats, chickens, and an orchard. None of them have ever seen the mainland. They are brought to their island, called Maracoor Spot, as babies. There are always seven brides, so whenever one dies, a baby is brought to replace her.

The way Maguire introduces all this information is magical, as if he were weaving a spell. There are lyrical (but not sappy) descriptions of the island’s weather, the sea, the rain, the clouds, interspersed with descriptions of the brides’ suffering at their morning ritual. This slowly expands to show us their names, ages, personalities, and daily routines. They sleep in the outer part of a small marble temple, the inner room of which houses the terrifying artifact.

By the time Maguire was finished showing us the brides and their way of life, I was hooked. I knew I was going to finish this book.

The moral lessons, at least to which the story seemed to be heading, weren’t ones I could completely get on board with, however. So now let’s to spoiler town (though I should add that there are vast swathes of this book I haven’t addressed, so this is not a complete spoiler).

Rain, who seems to be the character we are most supposed to identify with considering that she is the one who comes from a beloved earlier series, makes the argument that Acaciana (“Cossy”) can’t be tried for murder because she is a 10-year-old child who has been raised in the very restricted environment as a Bride of Maracoor, not having a natural family, not having been given any chance to develop a conscience. She argues that the whole setup with the brides living on an island and ritually mutilating themselves every day, in service of the country’s religion, is inherently unjust and oppressive, and thus Cossy can’t be expected to know right from wrong.

It’s true that there are some troubling things about the “brides,” who are brought to the island as foundling babies and know no other life, being deprived of the chance to marry and have families and live in normal society. However, I can’t tell if this is a critique of ancient pagan customs such as the Vestal Virgins, or of there being traditions or religion at all. Obviously some religious customs are more oppressive than others. The brides are better off on Maracoor than if they had been made into temple prostitutes, for example.

It’s also not entirely true that Cossy was raised without any family at all. Cossy had a grandmother figure in Helia, who did some significant parenting, both good and bad. She had a sister in Scyrilla, and aunts in the other brides. Though there are only seven of them, the brides form a definite human society, with all the benefits and problems that come with that.

This raises the other point that Rain overlooks: no one gets to choose what family, society, or social station they are born into. The brides’ life might be more restricted than most people’s, but no one’s life is completely unrestricted. No one has infinite choices, and everyone has obligations placed upon them that they didn’t choose and don’t at first fully understand. These can be just or unjust, and we can argue that on the merits. But we should remember that they are not unjust simply because they are restrictions, obligations, and unchosen. Since the brides are all foundlings, we can assume that if they had not been brought to the island of Maracoor Spot, they would have either died of exposure (the fate of so many unwanted Greek and Roman babies), or been raised in some kind of institutional environment like an orphanage, where their lives would have been just as restricted, but without any sacred purpose.

Actually, I happen to agree that Cossy isn’t entirely responsible for the murder she committed, but it’s not because she was raised in an odd, isolated environment. It’s because Helia, her beloved grandmother figure, implicitly encouraged her to do it, told her exactly how to do it, and almost physically walked her through the steps. Helia is morally responsible, not only for the death, but also for taking an impressionable ten-year-old girl who is curious about death and making her into a murderer … and then throwing her under the bus. I don’t blame “the system,” I blame Helia.

That said, you can’t argue that Cossy absolutely did not know right from wrong or that she was in no way responsible. Witness how she falls apart after the death. She knows that she has done a terrible thing from which there is no going back. If she herself had not really committed murder, thus really changing her own character, then what Helia did to her would not have been such a terrible thing.

This book ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. There are lots of unanswered questions, such as the nature and fate of the Hammer of Mara, whether Maracoor is going to continue sliding into paranormal chaos, and whether Rain is going to get back to Oz. For me, there are also unanswered questions about Rain’s back story, though I suppose those answers are already known to faithful readers of Maguire’s previous books.

Video: Christians Talk Aliens, Bigfoot

In this video, I am keeping company with Jason McLean, a Christian paranormal researcher. That moniker should tell you a lot about the nature of this video. We discuss Bigfoot, the flood, and ancient alien theory. Our interests have a lot of overlap, but I must confess that even so, I was exposed to some ideas in the course of this conversation that (even) I found startling.

We were hosted by the lovely podcaster Chris K.

If you want to forget your troubles and bury yourself in Christian paranormal weirdness, please enjoy this 2+-hour conversation.

(N.B.: At one point, Chris asks, “Have you ever heard of Michael Heiser?” and I start squealing that I am right now reading one of Heiser’s books. Then the three of us jump into a discussion of beings called the elohim, without giving any background about what these things are. What they are, is created beings who dwell in a different realm (for convenience let’s call it “the heavens”), and are called “gods” relative to human beings. They are referred to as elohim in the Old Testament, although confusingly the same word is used to refer to the Most High God. If you want to see both uses in a single verse, see Psalm 82:1, “God [Elohim] stands in the divine council; He gives judgement among the gods [elohim].” This is an Ancient Near Eastern world view that is endorsed, with some caveats, by both the Old and New Testaments. If you’re curious how this could possibly be good theology, I encourage you to read Michael Heiser’s book The Unseen Realm.)

Pagan Quote of the Week

“I think you should be careful what suggestions you put into the air, Scyrilla,” said Helia. “You never know which god, disturbed of his or her rest, will play with a notion. You could be sorry. For all their power, gods are highly suggestible. Almost like children.”

The Brides of Maracoor, by Gregory Maguire, pp. 252 – 253

In a pagan world, this is very true, very insightful, and also a basic safety precaution to keep in mind.

Very Old Pyramids in Peru

The sacred city of Caral-Supe

Random thoughts:

  • The dates, as always, are messed up and questionably to be trusted. For example, the idea that the step pyramid at Saqqara is the oldest known pyramid in ancient Egypt.
  • Still, Caral-Supe seems to be old and I’ll accept that it was the region’s “mother culture.”
  • “The design of both the architectural and spatial components of the city is masterful, and the monumental platform mounds and recessed circular courts are powerful and influential expressions of a consolidated state.” Also, “Archaeologists think the sites collectively reflect the Americas’ earliest core of civilization, which existed from 3000 to 1800 B.C. and was totally uninfluenced by outside factors.” Both cannot be true. Given that it is a sophisticated city-state centered around pyramidal temples, it seems have been an expression of the ancient, pagan bureaucratic urban human culture. Triangulating with genetic evidence, it was probably carried to Peru across the Pacific when humanity was dispersing after the Flood.
  • “No trace of warfare has been found at Caral: no battlements, no weapons, no mutilated bodies. Findings suggest it was a gentle society, built on commerce and pleasure.” That’s a nice thought, but I’m withholding judgement. The same thing was said about the Maya until we got better at interpreting their inscriptions, and started finding pictures of gruesome human sacrifice, piles of bones, etc. As Caral-Supe is much older than the Mayan civilization, the traces of warfare might be even harder to find.

Stunning Mic Drop of the Week

What was peculiar about the West was not that it participated in the worldwide evil of slavery, but that it later abolished that evil, not only in Western societies but also in other societies subject to Western control or influence. This was possible only because the anti-slavery movement coincided with an era in which Western power and hegemony were at their zenith, so that it was essentially European imperialism which ended slavery. This idea might seem shocking, not because it does not fit the facts, but because it does not fit the prevailing vision of our time.

Thomas Sowell, in the essay “The Real History of Slavery,” in the book Black Rednecks and White Liberals, pp. 134 – 135

Pyramids in the Amazon

Lasers reveal ‘lost’ pre-Hispanic civilization deep in the Amazon

Not to be a broken record, but …

  • humans are smart, and they make culture wherever they go
  • the ancient world was much more urban than we have been told
  • there was apparently a universal human culture that included cities, pyramids, and legends/myths/cultural histories about “gods,” giants, and a worldwide flood

And, as a bonus …

  • The population of the Americas was much greater than once thought, before the arrival of the Europeans. A major population collapse happened in the centuries between the arrival of Columbus and the settling of the two continents by Europeans. For more information, see this video, which is #10 in a series, and the videos that follow it (#s 11 – 14). This is fascinating stuff.

My Trilogy Wraps Up on May 30th!

The Great Snake is coming out on May 30!

You can preorder it here.

Or, if you are a dedicated book blogger who wants to read and review it, e-mail me your mailing address through the contact button and I will send you an Advance Review Copy.

Here are the back cover and spine, just for fun:

The Long Guest started out in the sunny Fertile Crescent and carried the tribe across Asia to the Pacific coast.

The Strange Land took them across Beringia (the Land Bridge) and ended with the tribe poised to traverse the rapidly melting corridor between glaciers that led into North America.

The Great Snake takes them into warmer climes again, as they pass through the corridor of ice and eventually explore subtropical regions along the Mississippi River.

Of course, that’s just the geography of the trilogy. It doesn’t tell you anything about what happens among the people.

You can read The Great Snake as a stand-alone if you wish, because it is written for people who may or may not have read the previous two books.