Rachel Hartman's debut novel is a lovely thought provoking YA fantasy with an engaging portrayal of dragons unlike anything I've read before. Humans aRachel Hartman's debut novel is a lovely thought provoking YA fantasy with an engaging portrayal of dragons unlike anything I've read before. Humans and dragons coexist on the basis of a fragile treaty. The fortieth anniversary of the treaty is weeks away and with it comes the imminent visit from Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon general. Before the Ardmagar arrives, a prince is murdered. The manner in which the prince's body is found leaves the all too suspicious city of Goredd quick to lay blame on the dragons. The building ominous tension in the city is of particular danger to Seraphina, the new assistant to the court composer.
For safety's sake, Seraphina was supposed to avoid drawing attention to herself. When the musicians under her direction are unable to play the Invocation, Seraphina must step forward to play at the royal funeral. Now it seems her every move attracts attention whether it is from her princess student, the prince who heads up the queen's guards, volatile noblemen or dragons in human form that are appearing in increasing numbers throughout the city. To keep her heritage and lineage a secret Seraphina is forced to lie and lie again to the humans around her, even those that she comes to trust.
Seraphina's mother was a dragon. It's a fact that defies comprehension to many. Dragons are cold, logical, even soulless. They see emotions as something to be regulated, strong emotions as something to be censored. It is impossible to believe one of their own fell in love with a human and wedded one while in human form. For humans, Seraphina's existence would be seen as dragons overstepping their power, as something beastly. In the current climate, it is essential that Seraphina hide her dragonish qualities more than ever.
Yet Seraphina cannot remain as aloof as she would like, not with Princess Glisselda as her student and friend. The princess has been brought up on ideas that dangerously wrong about dragons, ideas that could cause a scene with the new ambassadors in town. Seraphina also finds herself entangled in the investigation of what really happened to Prince Rufus. Then there's the matter of her uncle, who she fears will be hurt for passing as an eccentric human rather than the dragon scholar that he is. Though she also fears what dragonkind will do to him as well.
I enjoyed the characters in this book very much, especially Prince Lucian Kiggs. I like how this head of the queen's guard reacts to the world around him. He's dedicated, perceptive and insistent on the truth (which causes a few tensions with Seraphina). His past colors his actions and I loved how Seraphina thwarted his sense of order. Seraphina's prickly personality comes alive on the page.
Seraphina comes out in July 2012. I read an ARC courtesy of Netgalley....more
With the return of spring comes Calder's forced exodus from the Caribbean. He's held out as long as he could, but now he must head northward to Lake SWith the return of spring comes Calder's forced exodus from the Caribbean. He's held out as long as he could, but now he must head northward to Lake Superior to rejoin his sisters. The warm southern waters are not the only thing Calder has held onto over the winter. He's been denying himself a basic need for months, a basic need that is only quenched when someone loses their life.
Calder's isn't a vampire and blood isn't what he takes when he kills. Instead, he's a merman. In the world that Anne Greenwood Brown has created, mermaids need mermaids feed on human emotions. Happiness, joy, love--positive emotions draw mermaids like flames draw moths. The mermaids need to compensate for their natural emotional deficiency. They do this by dragging people under the water.
At the novel's start, Calder hasn't done this for five months. Part of Calder's denial of his instincts is self-preservation. Too many deaths would look suspicious. Part of it is the thrill of denying his cravings. Whatever the cause, its left him on the edge of his control, volatile, at a time when he's forced to return home through the bond he shares with his sisters.
Years earlier, Calder's mermaid mother died because of a human. Now Calder's sisters have tracked down the son of the man responsible and are planning their revenge. Who is the bait in their plan? Calder. They decide the easiest way to get at Jason is through his daughters. Calder's excited, and not just for the opportunity for vengeance. If he pulls off his role, he will also win release from his mermaid family. To be alone in his head, free from the telepathic influence of his sisters is a sweet reward he's wanted for years.
Calder spies on Jason's two daughters, deciding the younger daughter is the one he must befriend and work on manipulating. Yet it is her older sister Lily that keeps capturing Calder's attention during his forays onto land. (Greenwood Brown's mermaids can painfully shift into two-legged form though the transition leaves Calder vulnerable and weak for dangerous moments afterward). To keep tabs on the Hancocks, Calder slips into the large group helping move the family into their house. He gets a job at the same little food place as Lily. He keeps himself close, to close to a family he's never really had.
Caught between family bonds, revenge he's been raised on since childhood and a crush he didn't want, Calder has to learn what it is his heart wants as well as who he really is. At times cocky and arrogant, Calder is also confused and fragile by turns. I enjoyed the exploration of family and identity in this book. A piece of this was the second way mermaids could be created where they could shock a human within a heartbeat of death--reinvigoration. It was in such circumstances that then three-year-old Calder became a merman.
Withheld information, jealous sisters, danger and revelation made this a fun recreational YA fantasy read. I liked the sense of a monster fighting being a monster, especially as it was reluctant in places for Calder. I also liked that the ending was somewhat unresolved.
I read my copy of Lies Beneath courtesy of Netgalley.
Trevor Jones is staring middle school and he's been preparing for it for weeks. He's determined to get a good start to the year by following the instrTrevor Jones is staring middle school and he's been preparing for it for weeks. He's determined to get a good start to the year by following the instructions his best friend Libby emailed him about middle school. He's going to try not to doodle all over everything with his favorite pen. He's going to not hang out with the janitor. Those things are all in the plan, but Trevor's not prepared for Libby to show up for the first day in a skirt or for her to tell him they can't be best friends anymore. Libby's bailed Trevor out from embarrassing situations on the first day of school for years. Before Trevor can figure out how he'll handle rescuing himself, Libby issues him an ultimatum that he's even less prepared to handle--Trevor has to find a date to the fall dance before the end of the first day of school.
Missteps abound in Trevor's first weeks of middle school. He knows he's supposed to steer clear of the eighth graders, but it's impossible. When he isn't being the target of an overly cool boy's bullying, Trevor is asking an eighth grader at his bus stop for advice. When he tries to ask the new girl Molly to the dance by dropping a note into the trash, he ends up sneezing on the note instead. He's still determined to ask Molly even if she is as different from Trevor as can be--she wears clothes with tears, doesn't mind being late and likes getting detentions. Trevor also has to find a way to convince Libby that she's got the very worst date to the dance, but Libby thinks Trevor is making up lies.
Each chapter of the Classroom starts with an interview excerpts with students from Westside Middle School. Anxious Trevor, Libby, Molly, the bully and others take their turns spinning the events leading from the first day of school up through the fall dance. This is a funny read with depth that deals with friendship changes, bullying, teenage relationships, anxiety issues and more. Sketches and artifacts from the school add another dimension to this documentary-style book.
I reviewed an ARC of this book courtesy of Netgalley....more
Twelve-year-old Abby Hale’s waited years for her Judging Day and its festivities. Her siblings have all come home, even the over studious Jeremy. TherTwelve-year-old Abby Hale’s waited years for her Judging Day and its festivities. Her siblings have all come home, even the over studious Jeremy. There’s the family dress to wear and her mother’s special necklace. When she heads to the Guild for the Judging, she’s filled with anticipation. Why shouldn’t she be? Once she’s been Judged, she’ll finally be able to use magic like an adult. There’ll be no more waiting for an adult to come rescue her for the most basic of things—getting clothes out of the drawers, making her bed, getting the kitchen to cook. Her siblings all did well on their Judging Days, all 5s or higher, with her oldest sister Alexa receiving a very rare 9.
At the Guild the unthinkable happens. Abby doesn’t even pass the first level. She’s ordinary, an ord, and her parents are being advised on how to get rid of her. Thankfully for Abby, her parents defy convention. Their love for her can’t solve everything—the local school will no longer keep Abby enrolled. Its Abby’s sister Alexa who has a solution for this. She’s worked for the king for years in a job that she’s never been allowed to discuss. That job is working at a school for ords where Abby will learn how to live without the aid of magic. More importantly, she’ll learn how to defend herself for there are many people –and creatures—who would love to get their hands on an ord.
Why would anyone want an ord when families are encouraged to get rid of them and the majority of ords are treated like they are disease reason? It’s simple. Magic can’t touch them. The strongest, most expensive antitheft spells mean nothing at all to an ord. Booby traps don’t phase them all. For adventurers, there’s no greater tool than an ord. Before Abby even sets foot in her new school an unscrupulous pair of adventurers have tried to procure her as their newest ord, having lost their previous one to death. This pair doesn’t understand no for an answer and will use whatever means necessary to get an ord.
Abby joins a small group of first years at the school. All are children of magical families save Peter. Most of the students come from families that no longer want them. Many see the school as a refuge, but they will soon learn that safety is something they’ll have to fight for and not a comfort.
Ordinary Magic is an amazing middle grade fantasy. Not only does it twist many of the genre’s conventions but it is filled with well developed characters and relationships. Abby’s supportive quirky family is a joy to read about. The students struggle to come to know and trust one another with realistic stormy patches. This is a book to read and share over and over again.
I read an advanced copy of this book through Netgalley. Ordinary Magic comes out on May 8, 2012....more