Thursday, June 3, 2010

Another Faust by Daniel and Dina Nayeri

Oh, kids these days, with their Justin Bieber, roller skatey shoes, and deals with the Devil.

I remember a dream I had when I was about six years old. I was walking down the street and minding my own business when I was suddenly accosted by Satan himself. He summoned me to a balcony, apparently just to scare me. Then I woke up. That was one of my most vivid dreams as a child, the other being a Care Bear that allowed me to fly, but that is irrelevant to the book in discussion.

Another Faust is the story of Nicola Vileroy and her young wards. They are all very gifted children who she adopted when they were babies. At least, that is the story everyone outside of the family knows. The truth is that she came to them when they were all 10-years-old and made a bargain. She would give them what they wanted, and in exchange, she would have their souls.

Victoria is pretty much the most horrible person imaginable. We find out that her father gave her to Nicola, and no one can really blame him for that. She is ruthless and power-hungry. Her gift is "cheating," reading minds. As she bargains more, she gains an army of insects to do her bidding and spy on everyone at all times. Valentin is a charismatic ladies man. He can turn back time over and over with the use of a pocket watch.

Belle has low self esteem. She gave up her soul to be pretty. In addition to being pretty, she is cursed with a really bad smell that keeps everyone away. In order to get Belle, though, Nicola had to take her twin sister Bice. Bice did not want to bargain, so they had to alter her mind so she doesn't remember any other life. Bice has the power to hide, hiding in time and staying still for long enough lengths to learn countless languages.

Another child, Christian, also had to have his memories removed. Christian had been living on the streets of Ireland with his father, forced to steal just to eat. He has the power to steal, and when he touches someone, he can steal their smile or hand-eye coordination.

The kids are all moving to New York to start at the Marlowe School. Victoria has her eye on the Marlowe Prize, and immediately sets to work annihilating her opponent Lucy. Belle is assigned to get close to Thomas, and starts to fall for him in spite of herself. Valentin toys with his fellow students regardless of consequences because of the safety net he has in his gift. Bice just avoids everyone more and more.

The name of the school (Marlowe) and the childrens' last name (Faust) are obviously references to the original Faust story. It was a fairly clean-cut good vs. evil story. Victoria and Vileroy were easy to hate, Bice and Christian were likable. Belle and Valentin, however, were somewhere in the middle. It's difficult to completely like them, but they weren't totally evil.

Getting back to the dream I had, let me just say that I have an overactive imagination. Thinking about how generally disappointed I am with my life right now, I remembered that long-ago dream. What if it really wasn't a dream and Beezlebub had been bargaining for my soul long ago? What would I ask for if the Devil were willing to bargain today? As a good Catholic girl, the Devil makes me incredibly uncomfortable, even in the hypothetical sense.

The entire concept of bargaining with the Devil reminds me of all those Health and Psychology classes I took in high school. Along the lines of smoking and drinking, bargaining is a contingency trap. You get the immediate gratification of your reward, and you don't have to pay a price for an unforseeable amount of time. Still, in the end, you end up having to pay.

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