Maeve, the fourth daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters, has lived apart from her immediate fOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Maeve, the fourth daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters, has lived apart from her immediate family for ten years. As a child Maeve fell victim to a terrible fire, scarring her face and body and costing her the use of her hands. For ten years since, Maeve has lived with her Aunt Liadan and Uncle Bran in Britain - sent away by her parents at first in the hopes that Liadan would be able to find a salve or poultice that could help Maeve heal and regain some movement of her fingers and hands. As the years pass, however, and the reality of Maeve's condition sets in, she learns from her foster family how to be brave and strong in the face of adversity, how to accept herself, and live a happy, normal life. Maeve is resigned to never be married or run a household in the manner that a chieftan's wife would, and instead, she hones another skill - Maeve has a natural gift for communicating and soothing animals, and uses her skills to train horses in Bran's stables. As for Sevenwaters and her birth parents, Maeve has little desire to ever return home, where she believes she will certainly be seen as an embarrassment to her father, and a weight on the household to her mother.
All of that changes when Lord Sean writes a desperate missive to Bran - Sevenwaters faces a dire threat. The men and two sons of neighboring Chieftan Cruinn of Tirconnell have disappeared while riding through Sevenwaters woods, and despite Lord Sean's search efforts, the corpses of Cruinn's men are turning up one by one, murdered in cruel, unimaginable ways. Mac Dara, the cold king of the fair folk, is behind the Disappearances - his end goal, presumably, to lure his only son Cathal back to Sevenwaters, to force Cathal to succeed Mac Dara's reign of darkness and grief. Mac Dara's actions have a more immediate and sinister implication, however, as Sevenwaters faces threat of war from Cruinn and other clans that have fallen out of kinship with Lord Sean. In order to appease and soothe these tensions, Lord Sean implores Bran to send his finest, most prized stallion across the sea to Erin as a peace offering while Sean's men continue to search for Cruinn's sons. The journey from Britain is long and hard, though, and for Bran's prize horse - a skittish stallion named Swift - only Maeve can calm the beast enough to endure the journey.
Maeve's long overdue return to Sevenwaters is fraught hardship and heartbreak, as she must confront her past and face her family, but it bears the promise of hope and love, as well. Her homecoming is the key to stopping Mac Dara; together with her younger brother Finbar, and aided by two loyal hounds, Maeve must journey to the Otherworld and fulfill a long forgotten geas to protect those she loves from all harm and safeguard Sevenwaters' future.
The sixth in the Sevenwaters series, Flame of Sevenwaters is an Epic Book (note the capitalization). There's a sense of gravity throughout this novel, as the 'coming storm' feel of all the previous books - including the first trilogy, with the events of Child of the Prophecy - come to an inevitable, high-stakes showdown. It's terrifying and exhilarating, with all of the prophecies and geasa revealed, as older figures like Ciaran, and newer faces like Maeve and Finbar, desperately make one last play to safeguard the future of Sevenwaters.
And dear, sweet readers - I loved this book. With the force of an exploding, devastatingly enormous supernova, I loved this book.
Part of the reason for this love is Flame of Sevenwaters' heroine, Maeve, who narrates this tale. Like her sisters and her family that preceded her in the prior books, Maeve faces a daunting task that requires incredible courage and dedication. More than that, Maeve also faces physical and emotional challenges unlike any her sisters have ever confronted. Her scars and the lack of use of her hands has made Maeve approach daily life in a different way than Liadan or Clodagh, or even, arguably, Sorcha. Though she must rely on a maidservant to help her eat and perform tasks like washing and dressing, Maeve is defiant and refuses to indulge in self-pity. Instead of becoming a passive heroine, Maeve builds her ability to sense emotion and empathize with animals and humans alike. Her fear, similarly, is not that she will never been seen as beautiful or that she will never marry, nor does she necessarily fear stigmatization - instead, Maeve's greatest fear is being helpless. Her strength is deep-rooted in this belief in herself and her refusal to become an object of pity, making her at times a prickly and stubborn heroine, but one worth rooting for wholeheartedly. Believe me when I say that Maeve is tempted and tested in this book, but even if she has fears and doubts, she never loses sight of who she is and what things matter the most to her - that is, the safety of those she loves, be they dogs, horses, or her beloved younger brother Finbar.
Beyond Maeve, this sixth volume also reintroduces many familiar faces, while acquainting readers with new ones, too. Among the familiar there is Finbar, no longer a helpless babe, who has grown into a solemn young boy with an uncanny gift for seeing what is to come. The bond Maeve and Finbar form is tentative at first as they are complete strangers, but grows quickly - Maeve years to give Finbar cause to hope and smile and live a normal childhood, while Finbar takes heart from his sister's defiance and courage. There's also the reintroduction of Ciaran, who plays such an important and pivotal role in this last fight against Mac Dara. Liadan and Bran make an appearance, as do Cathal and Clodagh (all my favorite, most beloved characters in this universe - outside of Sorcha and Red, of course). As for new faces, Cruinn the grieving chieftan missing his sons is a powerful figure, as is the introduction of conflicted druid (and unlikely bodyguard to Finbar), Luachan. Besides Maeve, though, my favorite characters are beasts - the two wild hounds, Bear and Badger, that Maeve finds in the shadowy regions of the woods, and beautiful horse, Swift. All three creatures play vital roles in this novel and I will not say how or why - just that though the journey is heartbreaking, it is so worth it.
As always, Juliet Marillier's writing is spectacular and lush, though I will say that the plot of this final book takes a tad too long to get going - there is lots of introspection, of Maeve dealing with her return to Sevenwaters and trying to get away from the family keep. This isn't a bad thing as it helps solidify her character and motivations, but the bulk of the actual story takes a good while to start moving. This is a minor criticism in what is an otherwise flawless novel that actually diverts from the other Sevenwaters entries. I appreciate Marillier's different approach to the structure of the book - in which Maeve's narrative is interrupted with six smaller interstitials, detailing a druid's journey - just as I appreciate her creation of a heroine that is not hale and flawlessly beautiful. Nothing against Clodagh or Sibeal, who are wonderful heroines that are powerful in their own ways, Maeve is a different kind of beautiful, whose appeal has nothing to do with her outward appearance. I love that Maeve remains true to herself throughout the book, that there is no miracle cure for her scars or her hands, though there is hope and love aplenty for her future.
And then there's the journey Maeve undergoes itself! I don't want to reveal too much of the particulars of said journey, nor do I want to reveal details of the final showdown to unseat Mac Dara from power. Suffice it to say, the stakes are as high as they have ever been, and the journey every bit as perilous - if not moreso - than those taken by any of Maeve's predecessors.
In short (though it may be too late to call this review short), I adored this book and its singular heroine. Flame of Sevenwaters is every bit as heart-wrenching as Daughter of the Forest, and as powerful as Heir to Sevenwaters. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically recommended - and beyond a doubt, one of my top 10 books of 2012....more
I'm quite sure that, in twenty or thirty years' time, people will say about this morning, "I'll never forget where I was when I heard the news."
So begins The FitzOsbornes at War, with the news of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing that the country at long last is at war with Germany. Sophie FitzOsborne may be a princess, but she and the rest of her family have been in exile from their invaded homeland for two years. While the events at the end of The FitzOsbornes in Exile ended with a rousing declaration against the aggression of the Nazis, who had invaded and seized their homeland, finally England is at war. For Sophie, war is a frightening, unfathomable beast - and with her brother Toby (current King of Montmaray) and cousin Simon enlisted in the Royal Air Force, fear is an ever-present companion. At least for the first few months, nothing seems to be happening. Sophie and her cousin Veronica move to London and take up in a small flat adjacent to the grand Montmaray House, finding ways to help with the war effort - Veronica finds a position with the Foreign Affairs office, while Sophie takes a role in the Ministry of Food. When the fighting starts in earnest, food and everyday items are rationed, and bombs start falling on London, the grim reality of war sets in. And for Sophie, for her beloved family and dear friends, nothing will ever be the same.
A far cry from the engagements and parties of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, or the smaller daydreams of a girl staring out of her ruined castle on the rocky shores of A Brief History of Montmaray, The FitzOsbornes at War is a more somber, but ever more powerful book. It's an older book (Sophie is now in her twenties), but it also deals with the most grave subject matter - the crescendo of discordant war and fear to which the first two novels were building. Easily, this third and final novel is the best of the Montmaray books; the most heart-rending, the most resonant. And, as with the first two novels, The FitzOsbornes at War all hinges on voice. An epistolary series of entries, related in english to us but coded in kernetin, it is Sophie's voice that drives the Montmaray novels, and it is her voice that makes this final act so resonant and truthful. Unlike, say, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity (which is also an epistolary novel of WWII, but far more extravagant, with characters that are spies and pilots in the thick of action and interrogation), Cooper's is a book that examines the sacrifices and horrors, the tedium and changes to everyday life endured by those in London during the Blitz and subsequent years. Through Sophie's journal entries, we see how she and Veronica prepare their flat for blackouts every night; we huddle with them as the bombs fall; we feel their keen edge of frustration and impotence as night after night they rush to the cellars to sleep, they queue for hours for a bar of soap. It's a completely different kind of story of war, a quieter one, but one that Cooper masterfully relates through Sophie's honest, engaging voice.
As a heroine, Sohpie has grown so much over the course of these three books. The childhood dreams of her journals as a sixteen year old on Montmaray feel like a whole lifetime apart from this new older, wiser protagonist. She still struggles with her feelings and relationships with her other family members, but she has grown into confidence and self-acceptance; her narrative spends less time worrying about luncheons and the schemes of Aunt Charlotte, and turns to other, deeper reflection - relationships and love, yes, but also the roles women play in the war, of her own sexuality, of her own beliefs and self-worth. It's not just Sophie that changes here, though. We also see a dramatically changed Toby - whose heartbreaking arc is a departure from the carefree charmer of the past - and a Veronica that comes to grips with her own emotions and attachments. Henry is a girl of sixteen, whose exuberance and rebellious nature remains unchecked, driving her to become expelled from school and to enlist, while Simon too becomes a much more serious and conflicted character as the war progresses. And, as this is a novel of war and struggle, not everyone makes it out alive. No one makes it out unscarred.
There are so many other characters, too - the Stanley-Rosses, the Kennedeys, and more play a vital role in this third novel. You may recognize some of the names - Billy Hartington and Kick Kennedy, for example - who actually were real figures. As with the first two books, The FitzOsbornes at War blends historical fact with fiction effortlessly. This novel, however, is far more extensive in breadth and depth of research; I'm in awe of how much research went into the writing of this book. (Don't believe it? There's an extensive author's note at the end of the book explaining which elements are fact and which are fictitious - it's a very, very long list.) Informative and thorough without being info-dumpy or preachy, accurate without being dry or boring, The FitzOsbornes at War touches on everything from wartime ration pamphlets to auxillary airforce responsibilities and stations.
What else can I say about The FitzOsbornes at War? I loved this book. I loved it because it tore out my heart as I anguished with Sophie and her dear family and friends. But I loved it more because it gently restored that same heart, injured, bruised, bleeding, but hopeful - hopeful for the future of the FitzOsbornes, for Montmaray, and for the war-battered world in the aftermath of so much horror and death. If there's one thing that The FitzOsbornes at War does, it gravely and truthfully shows that in war, there are no winners, no glorious shining victors. Everything changes for Sophie and her kin in this book, and through her frank, heartbreaking narrative, we observe the saga of a family struggling to survive in wars senseless, fickle path of destruction.
This is a cathartic conclusion to a brilliant trilogy; a tale of endurance and hope and bitter change. I dearly loved The FitzOsbornes at War, and will cherish it as one of my favorite reads in the years to come. One of my top 10 favorite novels of 2012, and a perfect, if heartbreaking, end to a truly amazing trilogy.
And I end this review with an earnest plea: if you haven't read the Montmaray books yet, please, please give Princess Sophia and her family a try. You will not regret the journey - though you may like me lose a piece of your heart to the FitzOsbornes along the way....more
Thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and dividedOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and divided into several clans. It was a difficult way of life and many people died in the harsh desert. Those souls of the first dead wandered around our world until they found the Dreaming, where they remained.
But the souls could not rest in peace in the Dreaming when they could see how their people suffered in the desert. And so it has come to pass that the souls of the dead ancestors, using the magic of the Dreaming, created the Gods – one for each clan. And now, every hundred years they send the Gods’ souls to walk around their people so they can help them survive.
But the souls of the Gods cannot inhabit just anybody – they must enter the bodies of a Vessel, a person who has connections to the Dreaming and to magic. Liyana is the current Vessel of her clan and has prepared her whole life to be the vessel of her Goddess. She loves her life and her family but she is prepared to sacrifice herself and to die so that her clan can live, especially now with the Great Draught. The day arrives for her Goddess to come and Liyana says goodbye to her family and to her clan, then dances the night away calling for the Goddess.
But her Goddess never comes. And although she has done every single thing right, although she has danced with a pure heart, her clan deems her unworthy and leave her behind. She is devastated and expects to die alone in the desert.
Until a God walks into her life – he is Korbyn, the trickster God, inhabiting his own vessel. He brings news that some of the Gods (including Lilyana’s) have been kidnapped. They say need to find their vessels and then go in search of the missing Gods and Goddesses.
In the meantime, the Emperor of the people-not-of-the-desert is also finding a way for his own people to survive the Great Draught – and will stop at nothing to make it happen.
Vessel is an absolutely brilliant book and I found very little to criticise. It reads a lot like an old-fashioned adventure Fantasy and it features a very thought-provoking premise. Everything works here – the lovely writing, the well developed world-building, the vivid desert setting and the characters. Lilyana, is an absolutely fabulous character: ever so practical, determined to do her best for her family (especially her little brother) even as she is trapped between wanting to live and knowing she must sacrifice herself.
In that sense, the most striking aspect of Vessel is how thought-provoking it turned out to be. This is a story full of questioning and the author incorporated this questioning really well into the narrative – in the way that the story is told, with the way the characters interact with each other and with their world.
The premise – the thing that these Vessels MUST believe, as they have been told all their lives is that 1) the desert clans cannot survive without the magic of their Gods and 2) the Vessel must die so that the clans can carry on living. But are those things even true? I thought fascinating how, as the story progresses and as Lilyana and the other Vessels interacted, different facets of these “truths” were disclosed. From different ways of thinking and different ways of living to how each clan is different and how they treat their Vessels differently.
The Vessels themselves are portrayed with variety: there are those who don’t question anything, those who are completely dedicated to their Gods, those who do not want to die or even care about their Gods. And of course, there are the Gods themselves – to some they are benevolent creatures, to others they are but leeches. Although the better developed God-character is Korbyn (and who doesn’t love a trickster God) , the other Gods and Goddess all embody different aspects and act accordingly – some love the people they come to save, some only care about enjoying a body once again. Do the Gods even need the bodies of the Vessel to work their magic? Is there even logic to all of that?
In addition, there are great discussions about tradition, faith, destiny and survival. The presence of the Emperor – a young, charismatic leader - brings a bit of politics to the proceedings: should all the peoples unite against a common enemy? Or should they fight for their independence no matter what? There is no easy solution to this question and as such none is presented here.
There is also an incredible amount of importance given to stories and storytelling within this world. Often Lilyana will tell traditional stories of her people which in turn, bring up other questions. How do you interact with the stories and the myths – are they supposed to be seen as truth? Are they supposed to be lessons? What do you take from those lessons?
On the down side, the Emperor is not as a fleshed-out character as he should have been. And the romantic development (as “right” as it turned out to be) between certain characters was perhaps too abrupt and underdeveloped. Those things said, they did not detract at all from the reading experience.
In summation: I really, really loved Vessel and think it is a superior, welcome addition to the YA Fantasy ranks.
I also love how the author succinctly, perfectly described the book:
“Vessel is a story about losing your destiny and what happens after.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Ana - Vessel is a beautiful, thought-provoking, brilliant gem of a novel that I loved from beginning to end. In fact, I think I'll come out and say it - it easily makes my shortlist of notable reads of 2012, and may even hit the top 10 list. Suffice it to say: I loved this book.
Ana has already talked about the awesome writing and questions that the novel poses, observations that I echo. I love that while Vessel is a fantasy novel about a girl whose destiny is thwarted and who finds her own way to help her people, it is also a parable about growing up. When Liyana is young, she - like everyone else in her clan - unwaveringly accepts her tribe's way of life, their beliefs and traditions. She does not want to die, necessarily, but she knows that by letting her goddess Bayla use her body as a vessel, she will be saving the lives of her clan, as countless vessels have done before her. When Bayla doesn't come as summoned, however, everything that Liyana has held as simple truth, everything she has been taught and told is challenged. And isn't that the way it always works? Gods or Goddesses aside, Liyana's eye-opening journey about the history of her people and the infallibility of her deities and elders is one with any reader can identify.
Another standout feature of Vessel are the characters themselves: protagonist Liyana, the big-hearted trickster god Korbyn, the other vessels Pia, Fennick, Raan, and the mysterious Emperor himself. Liyana, our heroine, is sorely tested throughout - abandoned by her clan (but given a chance at survival by her loving family), abandoned by her goddess, she must fend for herself in order to survive. Even when she is joined by the trickster god Korbyn (who was able to make it to his vessel safely), Liyana remains calm and in control, grounded in her own sense of self and always remembering that she is a vessel and that she must find her goddess Bayla. I love how her perceptions of both her world and herself change over the course of the novel, as Liyana clings stubbornly to her desire to live - and why shouldn't she? The other vessels are also given life and depth, from Fennick of the horse tribe and his brawny pigheadedness - but with a heart of gold beneath his bluster - to Pia, the beautiful blind songstress who is a haughty princess at first, but a true pure and perceptive soul. Of course, my favorite other characters are Korbyn, the beguiling trickster who comes to care for Liyana as more than just the vessel for his beloved Bayla, and Raan, the stubborn, questioning contrarian of the group. Raan is the only one that voices her defiance of being a vessel, who questions why she must die - which comes into play in the pivotal climax of the novel.
And the plotting! Vessel is an adventure novel, spanning the desert and another empire, even to a forbidden lake of magic and the creatures that guard it. The plotting and worldbuilding in this book are truly masterful, unique and utterly memorable.
Ultimately, Vessel reminds me of the great sweeping works of adventure fantasy that made me fall in love with the genre - and Vessel will be placed on my beloved books shelf, right in between my collection of Jacqueline Carey and Rachel Neumeier novels.
Ana: 8 - Excellent
Thea: I'll see Ana's 8 and raise it to a 9 - Damn Near Perfection...more
Thea: Awe. Horror. Utter, depraved delight. All of these are emotions I experiencOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Thea: Awe. Horror. Utter, depraved delight. All of these are emotions I experienced while reading The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, the debut novel from Claire Legrand. Cavendish has a little bit of everything - a dash of Matilda, a heaping dose of Coraline, a touch of Tim Burton, topped off with a whole lotta original awesomeness, too, naturally. This is one fantastic book, and I loved it from cover to cover.
Ana: When I finished reading The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls I decided I needed to tell my colleagues all about it. It was just after lunch break and I was decidedly giddy about it. This is how I presented it: a fabulous horror book for children featuring cockroaches, cannibalism, a perfect little girl who she sets out to save her best friend. As I grew more and more enthusiastic about my recounting of the book, I stood up and I might have re-enacted a scene or two of the book – one of them, to the horror of those around me, involved an army of roaches. This is going to be our book club read for Halloween. Long story short: I loved this so much, I subjected myself to ridicule by re-enacting a scene with cockroaches.
On the Plot:
Thea: Victoria Wright is twelve years old and the top of her class at Impetus Academy. The pride of her stylish mother and well-connected father, Victoria makes sure that everything in her life is orderly and perfect, from her gleaming curls to her impeccable grades. In fact, the only thing that is not just so for Victoria is her one and only friend Lawrence Prewitt. Lawrence, also twelve years old, is a quiet boy with gray hairs that make him look a bit like a skunk, who doesn't care about his grades or what others think of him. What Lawrence cares about is music - he's a prodigy on the piano, but not much good at anything else. One day, after witnessing some particularly rude and disorderly taunting of Lawrence, Victoria decides to take him on as her own special project and befriends the strange musical boy (even when he resists and rejects her). Victoria and Lawrence grow to be close friends, until the day that Lawrence disappears.
Although the Prewitts insist that Lawrence is simply off visiting his ill Grandmother, Victoria notices that something is wrong - and this wrongness is not just with Lawrence's parents, but with so many others in the pristine town of Belleville. Peoples' smiles are garishly tight, their teeth too gleamingly white, and something else scuttles around the dark corners that Victoria can't quite see.
At the heart of all this wrongness is the orphanage on Nine Silldie Place - The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Children, like Lawrence, are disappearing from Belleville, and no one seems to care - no one but a few quickly silenced adults (like Professor Alban) and Victoria, that is. Victoria is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, to find her friend, and to restore sanity to the world.
From a pure plotting and storytelling perspective, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is a delightfully terrifying, deliciously creepy read - one that effectively plays with familiar tropes and images, like scuttling bugs in dark corners, mystery meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a house with voices and shifting halls, and a terrifying puppetmaster under a sheen of glamour in the form of Mrs. Cavendish at the center of it all. In Claire Legrand's blog post today, she cites a few MG titles that influenced her work (in particular her heroine Victoria), and the homage she pays to these fabulous books are strewn throughout Cavendish. There's Roald Dahl's Matilda - from the terrifying Home's "hangar" (where children are...hanged), which feels very much like Dahl's Chokey, to the horrific coaching Mrs. Cavendish gives to a boy who cannot resist eating sweets, which feels very much like Miss Trunchbull's abusive cake-punishment inflicted on a sweet-toothed student. There's also glimmers of Neil Gaiman's Coraline in Cavendish, too - the shimmering facade of the Other Mother in Mrs. Cavendish's tight, sunny smiles hiding a monster beneath, the oddness of the Other Mother's realm in the other dimension that the Cavendish Home embodies.
But, most importantly, while some of the elements are familiar and the hat-tips to influential works are unmistakable, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls has no shortage of its very own original magic. At heart, Cavendish tells the story of a prickly heroine that learns her own worth and the value of friendship - that different and disorderly does not always mean worse. To make this point, Claire Legrand is as gleefully sadistic as her titular Mrs. Cavendish - inflicting all kinds of deranged punishment on her characters, including (but not limited to) physical, emotional, and psychological torture; swarming, stinging beetle-roaches; and stinking food with mysterious chunks of rubbery meat for every meal. Even better - Legrand's writing is even-handed and never gratuitous or pandering, as she manages to keep the voice consistent with its middle grade heroine, but still make the story appealing (and properly horrific) for older readers alike. The story is brisk, the tension high, and as Victoria learns the true nature of the Cavendish Home and the secret of her perfect town, I was utterly, wholly under Cavendish's spell.
Ana: Unfortunately I am not schooled in Horror stories and more to the point, I am most definitely not well-read in children’s Horror stories . This means that even though I do understand some of the references and recognise some of the influences that Thea noted above, to me the sense of the familiar that the book engenders stems from archetypical fears rather than specific works. As such, Cavendish plays really well into those familiar fears: the fear of the dark and of confined spaces; of losing one’s parents; of loneliness and being at the mercy of enemies; of the monsters under the bed (or behind a wall) and of the creepy crawly insects. And then it goes beyond by combining those archetypical fears with the book’s own thematic elements: self-acceptance and the value of friendship and the importance of memory – of remembering people that are gone and the things have gone wrong in the past so that they are not repeated again.
This is a Horror story and it is meant to be horrific. I love that the author does not pander to her audience - although at times I admit found myself clutching my imaginary pearls in extreme horror and going “I can’t believe she went there”. I loved the book because it was a proper horror story and it doesn’t shy away from it. Interestingly, it is hinted that the parents of those children actually would have wanted them to go to the Cavendish Home to become perfect, well-behaved little children. As such, this makes the book all the more impacting because then the Cavendish Home might as well be a mirror to the world outside: a world that strives for a certain type of perfection that is fake and unnatural.
Of course, it also helps that the prose itself is pretty awesome and that the story is developed beautifully as a Quest to save a Best Friend (and in the process of doing so, also save the town).
On the Characters:
Ana: Victoria, the main character is an incredible MG heroine. Assertive, intelligent, self-sufficient. Incredibly self-aware about certain things: about her sense of self-worth and about her integrity, sense of honour and extreme dedication to her own education with a love for knowledge and a desire for victory. But she was also completely oblivious to others: like her potential for cruelty, the sense of superiority that effectively distanced her from the other kids and her real feelings for Lawrence (whom I loved from basically page 1).
I loved that the majority of those characteristics are not presented as negative aspects in themselves – they only become negative when Victoria thinks of herself as superior (and therefore better) to everybody else when they don’t show the same features. Her character arc is great - as per the thematic core of the novel, she learns to accept others for who they are (e.g. completely different from her) without changing her own personality. In fact it is her very own non-nonsense way to look at the world that saves her life.
As for Mrs Cavendish: Mrs Cavendish is that sort of unrepentant, black-and-white villain that is so easy to loathe. She reminded me of Professor Umbridge with her potential for unparalleled cruelty, the kind that entwines both physical and emotional torture.
Thea: Allow me to break out of serious reviewer mode and commence gushing: OH MY GOSH PEOPLE I FREAKING LOVE LOVE LOVE VICTORIA SO MUCH. Just as the author says in her guest post about heroines, Victoria is a prickly, snobbish, perfectionist of a heroine. The mere thought of earning a B is horrific to her, and she goes about her pristine, ordered life with nary a thought for what she might be missing or whom she is hurting in her quest for Utter Victory (Academic or otherwise). And yet, despite her frosty princess qualities, Victoria is an incredibly compelling and likable heroine, because underneath that hardened shell of self-importance, she actually is a loyal, true friend (though she's oblivious to this fact). Heck, the only reason why she stands a chance against Mrs. Cavendish and her cohorts is because she has such a hard head and a stubborn streak a mile wide.
On the other side of the coin, however, there is Mrs. Cavendish - our villain, who also quests for and demands utter perfection of everyone in the town of Belleville. At different parts of the book, comparisons are drawn between Victoria and Mrs. Cavendish, showing the similarities between the two characters - both Victoria and Mrs. Cavendish demand others conform to their standards and beliefs. And through the horrors inflicted on children and the townspeople by Mrs. Cavendish, Victoria gradually learns that sometimes perfect is not perfect at all. In particular, I love one scene where Mrs. Cavendish forces one of the girls to paint the same bland, pretty picture over and over again, and Victoria reflects on Jacqueline's art before - how it was shocking and disturbing and made people feel things, in stark contrast to the perfect, soulless pictures Mrs. Cavendish forces Jacqueline to create. Mrs. Cavendish perhaps was once like Victoria, gone down a different, dark path - I love the contrast painted between these two characters, and how Victoria breaks free from Mrs. Cavendish's cruel grip.
Although, I should mention that what I love most of all about Victoria is the fact that while she does change over the course of the novel, she does not emerge from Cavendish as some benevolent, repentant child. No, she is still prickly, still overacheiving, still hyperorganized to a fault - but she realizes that she wants and needs more than distant approval from her parents and wants their love, just as she knows she yearns for Lawrence's friendship just as much as he yearns for hers. And that is all kinds of awesome.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana:The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is an amazingly fun and creepy read. The author develops its thematic core of self-worth without being preachy and without pandering to readers – this is Horror, yes. But Horror with a Heart.
Thea: I completely, wholeheartedly agree. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is a beautifully written, gleefully horrific novel that is perfect for readers young and old. Starring a truly remarkable protagonist in Victoria (who can go toe-to-toe with the finest heroines in the middle grade canon), and featuring terrifying (but appropriate and never gratuitous) horror in the form of Mrs. Cavendish, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls simply rocks. Easily one of my notable reads of 2012. ...more
Addie and Eva. Eva and Addie. From birth, the two souls have shared the same breath and heartbeat, occupied tOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Addie and Eva. Eva and Addie. From birth, the two souls have shared the same breath and heartbeat, occupied the same flesh, inseparably intertwined. The girls are twin souls, hybrid souls - and like everyone else born in the world, they grow together sharing their every thought and feeling with the other. As the years pass, they also fight for control of their shared body, learning who is stronger and who is weaker. Because in Addie and Eva's world, by the age of 10, a dominant soul is meant to emerge, the recessive soul meant to simply fade away, as though it never existed. Addie and Eva are different, though, and as the years pass, Eva refuses to disappear. The neighbors talk, the kids at school stare, and the government doctors step in. At the age of 12, after tests and treatments and thorough examination, Addie is declared "normal" and Eva is no more.
Except that Eva did not disappear, and still lives and breathes. Addie and Eva, Eva and Addie are Hybrid. After years of ceaseless war between normal, single soul Americans and invading monstrous Hybrids, fear of Hybrids is pervasive and without compare. This is Addie and Eva's greatest secret, and if they are to be discovered and revealed as a Hybrid, they will be imprisoned, killed, or worse.
So one day, when a strange girl at school named Hallie begins to relentlessly seek out Addie, Addie and Eva are terrified that she knows their secret. But that's when Addie and Eva learn that Hallie is just like them, a secret hybrid - but Hallie's other soul, Lissa, has the control and ability to move and talk on her own. Eva, who has been a passenger for so long, who has only ever been able to talk to Addie in her mind, will do anything to learn how Hallie and Lissa coexist. Even if it means risking their greatest, most guarded secret.
The debut novel from author Kat Zhang, What's Left of Me is a new entry in the sci-fi dystopia YA realm - an overpopulated, largely bland and somewhat homogenous landscape with a few amazing, brightly shining exceptions. Whenever I find a new novel of this particular subgenre, I am wary, but try to be cautiously optimistic - yes, there are many bland Not Dystopias that seem to use a pale, halfbaked totalitarian society as a mere backdrop for contrived insta-romance. At the same time, this is one of my most beloved subgenres, and home to many of my favorite books - from The Giver through Obernewtyn, The Knife of Never Letting Go through Blood Red Road.
It was with trepidation that I began What's Left of Me; it was with complete and rapt exhilaration that I finished the book. What's Left of Me is an original, harrowing, and unforgettable novel, and I loved every second of it.
The thing that first caught my eye about Zhang's debut novel was the conceit of two different souls born into the same body, living together until one emerges dominant and the other dissolves. In Eva and Addie's case, though, the two souls remain occupying the same flesh - which seems impossible, doesn't it? How could you live with two completely different entities within, knowing each other's every thought and experience? How could two souls live together and have one fall in love?
The very idea of Hybrids is fascinating, but more importantly, Zhang delivers in the execution of this unique concept brilliantly, through clever writing and the characterization of Eva. What's Left of Me is narrated by Eva, Addie's repressed soul who has clung tooth and nail to life - or whatever small semblance of life she can have as a secret observer to Addie's life, communicating only with Addie. From the time they were children, both accepted and loved by their family and society in the years before they were due to Settle, Addie was always the dominant one, quicker and stronger than Eva in controlling their body. And, through Eva's perspective, we see just how isolated she is, how cruel her very existence is - Addie gets to walk and talk and live, while Eva is a secret that no one can ever know about. Not her parents, not her brother, no one. Yet for this, Eva isn't resentful or bitter - but when she is given the chance to move and live like Addie, it makes sense that she desperately clings to that possibility, regardless of the risk involved. At the same time, even though the book is narrated by Eva, we also learn and feel for and understand Addie, too - who must love and resent Eva's existence, keeping her from being "normal" but at the same time her greatest confidant and an inseparable part of her. It's amazing to read the kind of quiet symbiosis the two souls have achieved - at one point, Addie and Eva fight and stop talking to each other, and as a result, Addie forgets where her hairbrush is, or to turn off her alarm because Eva is the observant one that reminds Addie to do these things each day. Little touches like that add a believable dynamic to the girls' complicated relationship.
What's Left of Me also weaves the nature of these conflicted dual souls into the writing of the book - we can see Eva and Addie's relationship change as the pronouns start to shift, from me and mine to us and ours. Addie begins to vocalize the forbidden "us" in reference to herself and Eva; Eva does not feel guilt for her existence and feels tactile things and emotions of her own volition. This is incredibly, mind-blowingly effective, and I love the careful even-handedness of this narrative development.
On the dystopia-meter, What's Left of Me also delivers. The xenophobia that characterizes the novel - the intense fear and hatred of the Other in the form of Hybrids is palpable and exceptionally well done in this book. Addie and Eva's world is truly a dystopian one, and their society guards terrible secrets - what happens to those children who don't Settle and emerge with one Dominant soul? Why are there Hybrids in the first place? There's so much more, too - there's a Golden Compass sort of horror and reveal at what exactly is being done to children Hybrids taken in by the government. There's the characters of Hallie and Lissa, and her older brother Devon and recessive soul Ryan - who comes to mean something very important to Eva. There are nefarious and conflicted doctors alike, and, most of all, there are other, much larger reveals about the nature of this future America and its place in the rest of the world.
In short, allow me to summarize: What's Left of Me is a dazzling, utterly memorable first novel, and in the running for one of my top ten favorite books of the year. This is the stuff of great science fiction dystopia, YA or adult alike. Absolutely, wholeheartedly, emphatically recommended. ...more
Note: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this serieNote: I chose NOT to include huge spoilers for the series so that anybody can read this post in which I try to tell you WHY you should read this series. You’re welcome.
Let me start by saying: wow. WOW.
I just can’t get over how good The Spark is. I’ve finished reading it a couple of days ago and haven’t recovered from the experience yet.
Roughly, this is what happens in The Spark: Valen, roughly one year since events at the end of Fly Into Fire. Penny “Broken” Silverwing and Sky Ranger now have a baby son, Amos. Teenager Dee is trying to take control of her powers of fire. Along with the few surviving extrahumans they have made a life for themselves apart from everything and everyone, an oasis of presumed tranquillity and as it eventually turns out, unwise recklessness. An ally and friend betrays their location to the Confederation and shit hits the fan monumentally.
And then ten years pass.
I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I sat down to write a regular review but all of a sudden…the review became something else. Because I realise that not everybody has read the first two books in the series, because I want more people to read then, I thought: instead of writing a regular review of this third book, I ought to write about the series as a whole and why I love them and why I think ALL THE PEOPLES should be reading this.
I have been reading and raving about this series since last year but with The Spark it reached a level of awesome that is off-the-charts.
Read this series if you like Scifi: like, proper, well-developed Scifi complete with space travel and superpowers and alien races. But also: dystopias. Proper, thought-out Dystopias with a government that seems to be on your side but it really are not. A government whose tentacles seem inescapable and there is real danger out there. One does not simply fight the Confederation. There are always consequences.
Read this series if you like politics: read this for the politics of the Confederation and how it controls many places at the same time but also how it attempts to control the lives and minds of people. Read this for the unrest, for the realisation that there can be no complete stability when people are exploited and subjugated and controlled. Read this for the resistance – in all forms and shapes – and for the beginning of an awesome revolution.
Read this series if you like awesome, complex characters. I just can’t even begin to describe how awesome this group of characters is and how their arcs evolve and progress beautifully. How there is angst, and sacrifices, and choices to be made and conflict. These people are put through the wringer and no one is safe. This series do not pull punches and is at times, truly heartbreaking.
Read this series if you like superheroes: whose powers are often not a blessing but a curse, whose powers don’t magically solve their problems or the problems of the world. If you like people with powers and whose struggle to accept them, control them is a lifetime struggle. These people struggle to understand who they are with or without those powers.
Read this if you like serious conflict: internal and external. The frame of the series is how an extrahuman who can predict the future contacts our characters from the past to let them know what they need to do to make a better future for everybody. Read this if you think this is fucked-up and unfair and how are these people NOT pawns on an already set course they cannot (can’t they?) alter.
Read this if you like diversity in your stories: for there are people of many races and many sexual identities. In fact, one of the main characters is a transgender person.
The Spark is a patently mature work from this author. It is a rounded, polished work and and the ending, when it comes, is as bittersweet as it can be and a perfect fit to the overall feel of this series. It is an open ending, full of potential and hope – and I hope to gods that Susan Jane Bigelow goes back to this world one day and allow me to spend more time with these characters.
I simply cannot recommend this series enough. The Spark is a serious contender for a top 10 spot this year....more
It was a truth universally acknowledged that my brother Charles was a hopeless gamester, a ridiculous over-slOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers
It was a truth universally acknowledged that my brother Charles was a hopeless gamester, a ridiculous over-sleeper and the one sibling too lazy to take part in any family arguments, no matter how exasperating our sisters might have been (and usually were).
Kat Stephenson, untrained Guardian and youngest member of the Stephenson family, has saved the day, and now must deal with the consequences. Thanks to her efforts, Kat's eldest sister Elissa is marrying the man of her dreams (and newly found substantial fortune, also thanks to Kat), Mr. Collingwood. Her brother Charles' sizable gambling debts are repaid, Angeline and Kat are restored with modest dowries, and all seems to be looking up for the Stephenson family. On the day of the wedding though, things go terribly awry when the ceremony is rudely interrupted by one Mrs. Carlyle - mother to the (formerly bewitched) Frederick Carlyle, come to rescue her son from the scandalous, ruinous clutches of Angeline Stephenson. After receiving a vindictive letter from high-society darling, Lady Fotherington, Angeline's prospects seem ruined as she is revealed publicly as a witch - her true love, Frederick, is taken away by his enraged mama, his inheritance threatened to be withheld should he choose to dabble with the likes of the Stephensons. Even worse, after learning this news, Kat confronts fellow Guardian, Lady Fotherington (whom has always had it in for Kat and her family, stemming from some past brawl with Kat's mother) - and promptly gets herself thrown out of the Guardians' order, much to the glee of Fotherington.
In order to salvage the family's reputation before the gossip of witchcraft can reach the rest of society, Kat's Stepmama whisks away the family (sans newlywed Elissa) to Bath, under the guise of paying a visit to their Stepmama's very rich and well connected cousins and enjoy the locale's health restoring properties. In reality, Kat's Stepmother's plan is simple and direct - they are at Bath to find Angeline a husband before Lady Fotherington's malicious handiwork catches up to them.
Things at Bath, however, do not go smoothly to plan. First, there's the problem of tricking Stepmama's rich cousins into accepting the Stephensons as guests (thanks to Kat's quick thinking and storytelling). There's the problem of saving Angeline from her own ridiculous schemes to push everyone away. Most importantly, there's the question of the restorative springs at Bath themselves - wild magic is afoot, and it involves Kat's brother Charles, her cousin Lucy, and the Guardians themselves. With Kat expelled from the order, though, she has to rely on only her own wits to solve the mystery and save the day.
Well, folks, what can I say? Renegade Magic is every bit as fantastic as Kat, Incorrigible - heck, it's even better. Everything that I loved about the first book and came to expect from the second book - Kat's penchant for mischief-making and magic-wielding, the love and understandable frustrations between Kat and her family, for two - are present in abundance here. The ante is upped in Renegade Magic, in terms of plot complications (they are wonderful), character development (especially between Kat and her various family members), and in terms of Kat's abilities herself.
Let's talk plot, first. The storyline for Renegade Magic is more complex than the first book, throwing in not only romantic entanglements and magical mischief, but also some serious conflict in the way of Kat getting kicked out of the Guardians' order, being stripped of access to the Golden Hall, and her powers forever destined to be stunted as she will never have formal training by any Guardian mentor. Things get even more drastic when Kat stumbles across some dangerous wild magic in the bath houses, ancient Roman rituals amassing crazy amounts of power, and must figure out who is behind the gatherings before her brother Charles ends up a sacrificial lamb to someone else's dastardly scheme. There's also the ever-present tension between Kat and Angeline, as Angeline is hell bent on her ridiculous schemes to make her Stepmama go apoplectic, and stick it to society at the same time.
In fact, I think my favorite parts of Renegade Magic involve Kat and Angeline and their relationship. As with the first book, clearly both sisters love each other (and by way of comparison, Kat and Angeline's cousins, Maria and Lucy are a great example of nasty sisters), though they do have their own tensions and animosity. Angeline still refuses to share their mother's spell books with Kat, and clearly harbors resentment towards her younger sister for inheriting Guardian powers and a position in the secret order of society magicians. At the same time, Kat jumps into trouble head-first, even with the best of intentions (protecting her sister and brother, for example) without thinking of consequences. There's also more inclusion of Kat's Stepmama - giving her more of a voice and full dimension as a character that does love her stepchildren, for all her blustering - which is fantastic. Plus, this time around, we are fully introduced to brother Charles (who needs more conviction, but actually does stand up for his sisters), and best of all, Kat's father - who finally takes a stand for his family in a gloriously fist-pump-of-awesomeness pivotal moment.
Of course, the success of the book relies on Kat herself, and she's stronger than ever in Renegade Magic. Just as clever, just as quick-witted, and just as wonderfully headstrong, Kat is a heroine with her heart in the right place, who will do anything for those she cares about. And that is pretty freaking awesome.
I loved this book to bits, and I cannot wait for more. Absolutely, enthusiastically recommended, and easily a notable read of 2012....more
In these lands, these broken lands of these United States of America in 1877, the Civil War and the Reconstruction have left ugly scars. In these landIn these lands, these broken lands of these United States of America in 1877, the Civil War and the Reconstruction have left ugly scars. In these lands, these broken lands, the new cohabit with the old, poverty with riches, ancient traditions with wondrous technologies, bigotry with tolerance. In the crossroad formed by the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River, a man without a country wishes to claim this place for his own – by blood, by fire and by getting rid of its five pillars.
Teenagers Sam, the son of an Italian immigrant and a card player, and Jin, a Chinese girl and a fireworks expert are part of a group that stand on this man’s way: a group formed by people from all walks of life who embody these broken lands and are old and new, rich and poor, traditional and modern, prejudiced and tolerant.
A crossroads can be a place of great power; this should not come as any surprise. It is a place of choosing, of testing, of transition, and there is power in all of those things.
These motifs permeate The Broken Lands – a prequel to Kate Milfod’s excellent The Boneshaker – to tell a story that inevitably wishes for these broken lands to be mended and to be healed. Not that this is an easy thing. It can’t be an easy thing when so many different threads coexist. But a conscious effort is made by the characters that inhabit this story – they are tested to their limits, they are allowed to choose and they are central figures in a transitional moment of their story. I loved the themes of this novel as much as I loved the incredible characters and the development of the plot to thwart the villains – all of it blended together seamlessly.
If Boneshaker was definitely Middle Grade, The Broken Lands is firmly set in YA territory: its main characters are a bit older, its horrors are lot more graphic and a lovely romance develops between its two main characters. Just like its predecessor, The Broken Lands is a novel that seeks its inspiration in folklore and religious themes but which shapes and bends stories in a way that is both old-fashioned and extremely bold:
There is the development of an idea about a mythical as well as mystical creation of a country, via its cities and its people. In it, each place is held together by its community’s pillars – men and women who hold offices and positions like for example, that of a history/story-keeper. What is all the more interesting is that these pillars change over time, as do their functions: here, power is a fluid thing and as changeable as the times. It comes as no surprise that – without spoiling too much – the people that hold New York together are not simply old white folks but a mixture, an encounter of immigrants that helped shape America: from Ireland, from China, from Italy; as well as American born and bred, including African Americans. Its concept of family is that of bond rather than blood and heroism is what you choose to do rather than what you are.
Its central character, Jin, is a Chinese girl who is strong, determined, enterprising and fierce. Who takes to what she must do to save this city and its citizens with aplomb and only a little reluctance. Her Italian friend Sam shares the point of view in this story and is equally enterprising but functions more as a side-kick. Someone who is full of admiration for the very characteristics that make Jin so independent. These two develop a relationship – friendship and eventually something more – in a natural way that is superbly well-done.
There is also a lovely appreciation for the art of reading and for what a reader brings to and takes from a book.
And this is what I take from this book: The Broken Lands goes beyond formulas and clichés. It has an awesome plot, full of twists and turns and adventurous moments and also, EXPLOSIONS. It has romance and awesome characters left and right. It is truly scary as any horror novel should be. Ultimately, it is more than a simple story: it is a book that has heart and soul and whose ideas will engage each reader in a different way.
This is the sign of a True Book and Kate Milford is a Master of Methods. ...more
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island forAna’s Take:
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island for example: where consuming a certain type of fish allows one a glimpse of the future; where a beetle song is deadly; and where different peoples fight for survival, as the places for the honoured dead expand at the expense of the places for the living. On one small corner of the island, the Lace – who smile all the time with their adorned teeth and whose names imitate the sounds of nature so that they don’t draw attention from the volatile, living volcanoes that pepper the island – struggle against poverty and overwhelming prejudice.
Their only hope is their Lost, Arilou, who might one day become the most important person on the island and bring riches to the Lace. Born only occasionally and respected for their abilities, the Lost are a different people on their own. Able to send their senses away from their bodies and wander around, they function as the island’s main form of communication across towns and as a sort of sage figure, their important political role unspoken rather than openly asserted.
Arilou is a different Lost though – someone whose mind wanders and rarely comes back. She can’t communicate and that is the best kept secret amongst the Lace, a secret shared and understood without being spoken out loud. Enter Hathin: Arilou’s unassuming sister, born especially to take care of Arilou, to be there for her at all times and to speak on her behalf. It is on her young shoulders that the fate of the Lace truly lies and she lives with this truth every single day of her life.
But then…the Lost start to die mysteriously. All of them are gone except for Arilou and so a history of mistrust and prejudice leads to the Lace being found guilty. Arilou and Hathin must run for their lives but how can the duo survive when one of them can hardly function on her own, on an island where everybody hates them and with an assassin on their track?
And this barely scratches the surface of Gullstruck Island.
Adventurous, wildly imaginative, engaging, thought-provoking, often heartbreaking, always inspiring, Gullstruck Island soars powerfully and beautifully. I feel like a broken record but Frances Hardinge’s imagination is otherworldly and awe-inspiring. It frustrates me a little bit that I do not have the equivalent talent (LOL, how could I) in order to express how good her books are, how awesome Gullstruck Island is. I always feel when I am writing a review of one of her books that I am woefully boring and incapable to convey the sheers brilliance of her stories. I tend to dwell on certain aspects like her powerful social commentary or her heroines’ incredible story arcs and then miss things like…say, the Reckoning in Gullstruck Island. They are group of Lace warriors who abjured their older lives so that they can avenge the death of those they loved and whose deadly weapons are anything they can get a hold of. And then there is the whole thing about the difference between revenge and justice and how different people choose different ways and it is awesome.
The best thing is how Gullstruck Island (the place) is a completely different, original setting in which familiar themes of friendship, sisterhood, coming of age, overcoming prejudice and finding one’s place in the world are explored without a shadow of clichéd writing or oversimplification.
A theme that runs through Gullstruck Island is the insidious nature of prejudice which sometimes is not even OVERT and can even be disguised as friendly. Take this quote for example:
It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it.
Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be a remark like a punch in the gut, but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave, and nobody woujld stop them because it was all only a joke…
Look at me, I am going on and on about things and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the characters are all incredibly well done and I loved them and I hated them and I feared for them and I rooted for them. But most especially, Hathin is such an amazingly drawn, complex protagonist and her arc is inspiring (how many times have I used this word in this review?) and her actions are stirring and affecting. From her complicated relationship with her sister to the way she feels about her place in the world, it is impossible not to empathise with this character. And world, why can’t we have female protagonists like these all the time?
I seriously believe that there is nothing quite like Frances Hardinge’s books out there at the moment – in any shape or form (or genre and age group).
Dear Frances Hardinge: you have ruined me for other books this year and I love you for it.
And I will just finish with my favourite quote from the book:
“I am anything I wish to be. The world cannot choose for me. No, it is for me to choose what the world shall be.”
Yes, yes, yes. Everything that Ana said. I have jumped on the Frances Hardinge bandwagon and have no plans of jumping off. Gullstruck Island is a beautiful, wildly imaginative book that is unlike most anything else out on the market today. Heck, I can’t think of any author in the YA or even adult space that possesses the same imaginative scope as Frances Hardinge.
In Gullstruck Island, we are introduced to an island-society, stratified by different groups of people – varied in their beliefs, in terms of their tribal representations, appearance, and history. Our heroine, Hathin, is one of the Lace – a group of peoples on Gullstruck, marginalized because of their air of perceived secrecy and duplicity, a prejudice that dates back to a time when the always-smiling Lace secretly killed and sacrificed humans to placate the volcanoes on the island. Since that horrific discovery generations earlier, the Lace have been ostracized and demonized by all other tribes on the island, from the Bitter-Fruit clan to the Sours. The one silver lining that the Lace have is Arilou – the Lost are rare on Gullstruck, but there has never been a Lost Lace before, so the respect and power that comes with having a Lady Lost is a huge boon to Arilou’s particular tribe (the Hollow Beasts).
There’s only one problem: Arilou, for all her beauty and seeming appearance of a Lady Lost, has never shown a sign that she is anything more than a mentally handicapped girl. This is the Hollow Beasts’ greatest secret, and all falls on the shoulders of young Hathin, Arilou’s sister and “interpreter” who, over the years, has cultivated a commanding voice for Arilou all the while making herself invisible and insignificant to any inquiring outsiders. When a pair of inspectors come to test Arilou and ensure she is, in fact, one of the Lost, things look bad for Hathin and her tribe. When one of the inspectors dies suddenly, and the other goes missing, marooned on the open ocean, things look even worse.
Someone is blaming their deaths on the Hathin’s people, and single-handedly leading an already Lace-prejudiced populace into an angry mob that seeks to wipe Hathin’s tribe from Gullstruck. It is up to Hathin to save Arilou, to avenge her tribe, and save the Lace from annihilation.
I cannot express how complex this book is, and how carefully and completely Frances Hardinge creates the world of Gullstruck and all its various peoples. The central themes of discrimination, fear, and unwarranted prejudice, stirred by heated to a frenzy by some very nasty individuals is not an unfamiliar one – finding an ethnic group or people of a different belief system to blame for misfortune is, unfortunately, a prevalent theme in human nature. In Gullstruck Island, Hardinge examines these ugly human sentiments with careful attentiveness and draws these historical parallels without ever seeming heavy-handed or didactic. This is the stuff of great writing, folks – and Hardinge handles these very important topics with all the grace and import they deserve.
But beyond the social strata and commentary, Hardinge also manages to simply create a world that is amazingly, breathtakingly full. It’s hard to believe that Gullstruck Island is not a real place, with real people! We learn the different languages that these people speak (“Nundesrruth” short for “not under this roof” is a pidgin dialect, versus “Doorsy” which is the formal spoken and written language on the island). More than that, we see their different customs and beliefs, from the Lace’s affinity for smiling and drilling precious jewels in their teeth and creating long strands of shell jewelry, to the Ash people’s hunger for human ash to create and dye their skins and their goods. There are familiar elements from many different cultures and civilizations, but Hardinge makes these inhabitants completely her own.
And the characters! And the plot twists! What more can I say that Ana hasn’t already said? I loved Hathin with the force of a thousand supernovas. I loved her dedication to her sister Arilou, her feelings of pain and fear and ineptitude when her tribe is massacred, her desire to seek revenge and join the Reckoning. I loved Arilou, too, and the twists that come with her character in particular. There are villains and friends aplenty in Gullstruck Island, all believable and formidable enough, given texture and distinction with Hardinge’s clever prose.
If I had one complaint about this book – which isn’t so much a complaint as a note – it is that Gullstruck Island is unnecessarily long. This is something that I’ve noticed with Hardinge’s other books, and I think a detriment to her work. This title, as with A Face Like Glass are very long, very dense creatures that require days of reading time – and I’m an adult, that can read pretty quickly! Gullstruck Island is not the same type of quick, compulsive read that a Harry Potter or Twilight novel is – and I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I do think this is a reason why Frances Hardinge is not a household name. A middle grade level reader or YA reader, the target reader to which Hardinge’s books are aimed, likely does not have hours and hours of reading time. Gullstruck Island is a wonderful, complex novel as it is, but it probably could stand some careful pruning – which would not only help the story move along in a more direct fashion, but could also help its marketability to new audiences.
That said, I loved this book just way it is, and Gullstruck Island is absolutely one of my notable reads of 2012 (it would’ve made my top 10, had it been published in 2012!). Wholeheartedly, unabashedly recommended. ...more
Evelyn Pomeroy is a small town girl from the village of Maudley in the kingdom of Pylandrian - but she has biOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Evelyn Pomeroy is a small town girl from the village of Maudley in the kingdom of Pylandrian - but she has big dreams. It has been her greatest hope and dream to leave Maudley to attend university in the kingdom capitol and become a healer, though the likelihood of her ever attaining that dream is a slim and distant thing indeed. When the announcement makes it to town that the King himself will be visiting to partake in the local festivities, however, Evie's prospects change drastically - especially when the King shows up with a grievously ill Secretary of the Exchequer that needs immediate medical aid, and Evie is the only capable healer around. Winning the King's favor and the promise of tuition and board at the university, Evie sets out on the journey of a lifetime from Maudley to the city capitol, escorted by her best friend Prissy and her next door neighbor and dear friend Aidan. On the road to university, however, Evie and her caravan run into desperate trouble - a highwayman holds up their coach, stealing their goods and killing their driver. Aidan and Evie press on to the capitol, but more isfortune befalls them as they take to sea and are caught in a violent storm.
But it is here, on the high seas, the Evie discovers her true mettle - here that she learns just who she is, what power she wields, and the destiny that lies before her. Caught up in a royal wedding, plots and double-crosses, and an ancient heritage, Evie's path is fraught with danger - but with the guidance of her own heart, and help from those friends and family loyal and true, she will find a place in this strange new world.
Guys. GUYS. I loved this book so very much. I am prefacing this part of the review with an apology - I apologize, because this is going to be one giant love-fest for Julie Berry's beautiful book. When I started Secondhand Charm, I was desperate for a good fantasy read that would restore my faith in the YA, fairytale-ish subgenre (coming off of two very, very bad misses with Snow White and the Huntsman and Kill Me Softly) - I wasn't expecting to be swept off of my feet. But swept off my feet I was, thanks to Julie Berry's beautiful, masterful, Shannon Hale-esque YA fantasy. Secondhand Charm is a sweeping adventure, a coming of age tale, and a novel about romance and magic. Immediately, I fell in love with Julie Berry's writing style, which is evocative and reminiscent of the Books of Bayern - in fact, Secondhand Charm reminds me of The Goose Girl (thought I think heroine Evelyn is far more Enna than Ani).
On that note, the reason why the novel soars is because of the defiant strength of its heroine. I absolutely adored Evie, a heroine that knows what she wants and manages to stay true to herself and her beliefs, even when making the right choices are so very hard. It's also incredibly refreshing to see a heroine that doesn't take any crap, who gets annoyed with cryptic answers and what she perceives of as hokum/superstition (she is an aspiring scientist, after all), and who desperately tries to do what is right instead of what is easy.
Beyond the heroine, I loved the actual magic of the novel, the idea of Serpentinas, the fact that all of these things I'm saying about magic and serpentinas is actually a mystery until you read it happening (and I won't divulge because I LOVE that for once there is a blurb that doesn't give away the meat and potatoes of the story!). Ok, ok, one more slight divulgence - I love the relationship between Evie and her leviathan, and how their lives and fates are so intertwined. But that is all I will say of the matter, because theirs is a story that deserves to be discovered as a pure surprise.
Regarding the actual plot and other characters, I found myself similarly enamored. The story proper focuses on Evelyn and her adventure to find herself and her heart's true desire, but along the way there are many others involved and plots afoot - from her humble plans to secure an education, there's magic, an ancient inheritance, a sinister plot to overthrow a kingdom, and friends lost and found. I loved the relationship that unfolds between Evelyn and her new mentor and friend, the gregarious foreign princess Annalise.
And, of course, there's a romance too. One that is firmly on the backburner to the larger story, but so very well executed. I loved the love story.
What else can I say? I loved Secondhand Charm unequivocally, and it will certainly be on my list of notable reads of the year (if it were published in 2012, it could make my list of favorites). Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended - and now I'll have to check out Julie Berry's debut novel The Amaranth Enchantment immediately....more
From the moment that Seraphina was born and made her way, screaming, into the world, she immediately knew thaOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
From the moment that Seraphina was born and made her way, screaming, into the world, she immediately knew that she was different. Able to recall her birth and time as a baby, Seraphina grows up to a precocious young girl, infuriatingly hidden away by her overprotective father. Of all her father's rules, one rankles most of all - Seraphina is forbidden from playing music. After she discovers her mother's flute and teaches herself to play it, with the goal of shaming her father into assenting to giving her music lessons, her father is enraged, and terrified. The exchange leads Seraphina to discover one of the most desperately hidden secrets and truths of her young life - and her life from that point onward will never be the same.
As a result of that earthshaking night, Seraphina is allowed her music if nothing else, and apprentices under Orma, a saarantas dragon in human form. As her skill grows, so too does her reputation, and soon Seraphina becomes the apprentice of the finest musician in the kingdom and tutor to the crown princess herself. Attention, however, for someone in Seraphina's position comes at a terrible risk, and soon she finds herself embroiled in the ever-increasing tensions between the dragons and humans of the Southlands. When a beloved monarch, Prince Rufus, is killed by means that look very much like a dragon attack, the truce between the two species is strained to its limits - unrest from anti-draconian factions and religious brotherhoods take to the streets, while the dragons themselves survey the fraying political situation with disdain.
At the heart of this powder keg, Seraphina struggles to calm tensions and encourage understanding. Working to uncover the truth of Prince Rufus' murder with Prince Lucian Kiggs, bastard heir and captain of the guard, Seraphina also struggles with her own abilities and heritage, which threaten to overcome her and reveal her deepest, most guarded secret.
It is very hard to write this review without spoiling anything, so I apologize if anything here is slightly misleading - it would be a shame to spoil any of the developments and turns the story takes along the way. What I can tell you, dear readers, is that Seraphina is a beautiful, majestic creature of a novel in style and in substance - so much so, that it is hard to believe that this wondrous book is Rachel Hartman's debut novel. Dragon fantasy novels are a dime a dozen (though perhaps not so much en vogue as they once were in earlier decades), but Hartman takes what could have been a very tired magical creature novel and weaves a complex world rife with inter-species tension and bigotry, a refreshingly unique and awesome sense of magical ability, and an ode to what it means to feel and be...well, not just human, but a sentient, respected living creature.
There's a richness to every facet of this book, from character to world, but there are two superb aspects of the book to which I must draw your attention, dear readers:
First, there is the amazingly nuanced and genuine relationship between human and dragon that underscores the main conflict of Seraphina. I love that dragons are not treated as majestic beautiful shiny creatures in this book - they are both familiar and alien, cooly logical, precise, and uncaring of human sentiment (or are they?). The idea of dragons that can shift into human form is not an unfamiliar premise, but the behavior of these dragons and their reverence of knowledge and attitude towards humans is decidedly unique and beautifully constructed. As Seraphina makes the comparison to Princess Glisselda early in the novel, to dragons, humans are not too different than cockroaches - reproducing quickly, stubborn to kill, scattering and multiplying. But more than just cockroaches, humans are interesting, and their ability to create art and their messy emotions are what fascinate and seal the peace between the two species. The tensions that follow this uneasy truce are wholly believable, and I love the careful, nuanced way that the story develops this storm and feeling of mistrust on both sides of the treaty.
The second outstanding aspect of the novel, and most important to me, is the character of Seraphina herself. People, I LOVE SERAPHINA SO MUCH. Struggling to conceal the secret that would mean her immediate doom, walking the fine line between the world of dragons and humans, Seraphina is an enterprising, wonderful heroine for whom you cannot help but feel and cheer. She tries to keep herself separate from others, but yearns so much to end the lonliness that has characterized her entire life - in particular, her relationship with the dragon Orma is a wondrously complicated construct. Her relationships with other characters are fantastically done, too, from the impish Princess Glisselda to the cuttingly intelligent Prince Kiggs.
And I haven't even touched on the richness of art, the melodic quality of the writing that sits so beautifully against the music that moves Seraphina so, the thread of creative joy that runs throughout the novel! Nor have I touched on the wonderful conceit of Seraphina's emergent memories, gifts from her mother, and latent abilities that need tending in the form of a magical garden (and what this translates to in the real world). But therein lie spoilers, and I promised not to spoil.
Suffice it to say, there are many, many beautiful things about this novel. I loved Seraphina from cover to cover, and I dearly hope that fantasy lovers everywhere take heed and read this remarkable, wonderful debut. Seraphina is another lock for my favorite books of 2012, and I emphatically recommend it to all. ...more
Listen closely. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you areOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Listen closely. Do not draw attention to yourself. Once you have found a secure location, stay where you are and help will come soon.
This is not a test. Listen closely. This is not a test.
On the day that Sloane Price decides to kill herself, the world ends.
Wait. Let me start again, six months earlier --
One day, out of the blue, Sloane's 19 year old sister Lily runs away, leaving Sloane utterly on her own. In the months following, Sloane's life turns into a bleak, nightmare of fear and pain from which there is no escape. Sloane has, alone, absorbed the brunt of her abusive father's fury - and after six months, she has no more to give.
Now. Back to the beginning --
On the day that Sloane Price decides to kill herself, the world ends.
The dead come back to life, and Sloane finds herself banded together with a group of five other high school students. The six have made their painstaking way across their ravaged town and have only barely managed to reach Cortege High, taking refuge in the school's strategic location, its stores of water and food. Together, the group grapples with the loss of their families, they struggle to make peace with each other, and to survive the horror that lurks outside their makeshift barricades.
For Sloane, whose world had already ended with the loss - the abandonment - of her older sister, she struggles to find meaning in a world where life has already been sapped of any value or purpose.
Wow. I haven't read any of Courtney Summers' work before, but This is Not a Test is one hell of a place to start. With sparse, beautiful prose, and a deeply disturbing, resonant character in the narrator of Sloane, This is Not a Test is, beyond a doubt, one of my favorite books of 2012.
The best works of apocalyptic fiction (particularly of the zombie persuasion) force readers to confront the essence of human nature when pushed to the brink, or when facing unspeakable devastation. Summers' novel does exactly that, but through the lens of an already deeply hurt character who is so desperately grasping for meaning in a senseless world. Sloane's world just happens to have zombies in it. The bulk of the novel takes place within Cortege High School's barricaded walls and does play with many familiar zombie tropes - the need for supplies, for protection, the immediate distrust of outsiders, the common ways to become infected and kill those infected...you know the drill. Instead of being mundane, however, Summers' take on zombies focuses more on the human factor and the struggles within each of her core characters. It is through Sloane's words and her unique perspective of bone-chilling dissonance, that This is Not A Test surpasses the mere label of zombie novel, and becomes a truly, utterly powerful work.
Related through Sloane's brutal, cutting first-person narration, reading the book is a claustrophobic and harrowing experience. Sloane frequently slips away from the detail of the present to a more stream-of-consciousness type of internalization, always with the crushing weight of loss at the forefront of her mind. And that's really the key - loss. More than mere grief or fear, it is the palpable sense of loss that characterizes This is Not a Test. From the loss of loved ones, to the loss of civilized society, to the loss of any kind of tractable sense of life as it once was, this gaping, aching hole punched through a ruined world - due to the walking dead, or to a sister's abandonment - is the novel's defining theme.
From a character perspective, This is Not a Test also plays with some familiar tropes, but excels in terms of development, heart, and depth. Our motley crew comprises familiar figures in the zombie apocalypse space - the aggressive hotheaded dissenter, the coolly assured leader, the peacekeeping appeaser, and all the others that fall on one side or the other. Yet, while these broad strokes seem fairly stock, the characters in This Is Not a Test are not devoid of their own color. I love the tension between the angry, frustrated jock Trace and the calm, calculating leadership of Cary, just as I love the unconditional love and understanding between twins Grace and Trace (cute names, right). There's the sniveling nobody, Harrison, and the quietly observant Rhys who watches Sloane carefully. And then of course, there's Sloane herself, who remains distant from the group for as long as she can, absorbed in her own pain and resolved to end things once and for all.
Make no mistake, this is a stark, grim affair. Characters die, hearts are broken, dreams are crushed. But at the same time, a girl finds a reason to move on and live - and that is all kinds of awesome.
I loved this very beautifully oppressive, cloying nightmare of a book from start to finish. I will say it once again, so listen closely. This is Not a Test is, beyond a doubt, one of my favorite books of 2012....more
Let me preface this review with a warning: I loved this book. Intensely. Fangirlish gushing ahead.
It is the year 2129, and Earth has changed. It is a peaceful place, without war or strife, and everyone lives a comfortable lifestyle of leisure thanks to a largely robotic workforce. While robots handle the bulk of humanity's needs, there are some very key professions that still require a human touch; namely the arts/entertainment, athletics, certain elements of science (especially manned space exploration), or teaching. As such, society has been rejiggered into three main classes: eenies, mineys, and meanies.
The eenies sit atop the social pyramid - these are the celebrities, the uber-talented, and the super-geniuses. In order to become an eenie, one must pass a few incredibly difficult tests - they must excel in their studies and pass their culminating PotEval tests with flying colors; or they must be talented beyond compare in any entertainment field (sports, acting, singing, etc). Those that don't measure up become eenies are mineys, who comprise the majority of society as the plugged in middle class that is happy to consumer entertainment on a massive scale, and whose living is subsidized by the government (don't feel bad for the mineys - their yearly income is the equivalent of $2M in 2010). Those adults that do not fall into those two major classes of society (eenies or mineys) are meanies - convicted sociopaths, thieves, killers, and other assorted dangerous criminals.
Susan and her friends are the teenage children of eenies - and due to the strict laws that govern this new Earth, even the children of the elite have to work for their inheritance. This motley crew call themselves moes, aka losers. They aren't talented enough or automatically famous enough to become eenies, and the deadline for them to make the jump to eenie status is rapidly approaching (i.e. if they don't achieve a high enough recognition score, maintained for a full month by the established age deadline, they are screwed and destined to be mineys). Instead of becoming eenie by way of exceptional talent, Susan decides to go along with her almost-boyfriend Derlock's get-famous-quick scheme - to stowe away aboard the Mars-bound ship Virgo, thereby breaking the law but instantly becoming so famous that she and her friends will be immune from any nasty consequences. Though the plan is dangerous and technically illegal, Susan and the rest of her moe friends know it will work. And everything goes basically according to plan...until Virgo is rocked by an unforeseen explosion, killing the crew and knocking the ship off course and out of orbit. With finite resources and slim chance of rescue in the cold vacuum of space, Susan and her friends struggle to survive aboard their crippled ship, and with each other.
Dudes. DUDES. I freaking adored this book. Let me put it out there first by saying that I am an unabashed dork for exposition done well, and I love me some good hard science fiction. Losers In Space is predicated on the current laws of physics - in the words of author John Barnes as he explains his brand of SF, in our universe when Superman leaps over a building in a single bound, he must drill a hole into the sidewalk when he lands. In Losers In Space, the Virgo cannot be "rescued" by interplanetary rescue boats because there is no way for them to know where the ship is, and it would take months - even years - for a rescue ship to come from Earth or Mars to intercept Virgo in her off-kilter new orbit.
(I hope I'm getting this right. I might love reading this stuff, but a scientist I most assuredly am not.)
Guys, I freaking LOVE it when there are rule systems in place for speculative fiction - not that I don't love the Roddenberry brand of scifi, but it is infinitely cooler to read about space travel in the context of the actual laws of physics and plausible technologies. THIS is where Losers in Space excels. John Barnes not only creates a world that is plausible in terms of societal structure (albeit with cheesy nomenclature - eenie, meenie, miney, moe, anyone?) and space exploration, but also makes sure to explain the principles behind the technology and the rationale behind our intrepid heroes' plight.
Don't let this talk of science and explanation turn you off, though. For those that are not interested in the principles of space travel, you'll be happy to learn that all of this explanation and exposition is not included in the story proper. Rather, Barnes allows the narrative to proceed with minimal science lecturing - those details and explanations are parsed out into separate sections ("Notes for the Interested") that are interspersed throughout the story. If you're interested in the blatantly infodump-y science lecture, you read the note. If not, you can move on and enjoy the overall story without being subjugated to a physics lesson. (I liked reading the notes, even if I had a hard time comprehending all of the principles. Your mileage may vary!) It's a very clever, elegant solution that should appeal to readers of all ranges of scientific expertise, and I really admire that.
But enough of my babbling on incoherently about the virtues of footnotes and hard SF! What about the story and the characters? In these respects, Losers in Space also totally rocks. I love the concept of the world and the rationale behind these "losers" taking to a drastic scheme to get famous quickly by doing something very stupid - hey, these are celeb-brats trying to get on the "meeds" (think...TMZ/YouTube of the future) as quickly as possible, with the least amount of effort. I love the concept of this utopian - but really, ultimately dystopian in a sort of Eloi-ish way - world, where conflict has been eradicated at a fantastically high cost.
Once the drama in space finally hits and Susan and her friends are struggling to stay alive and figure out their best chance for survival and rescue, I loved the tension that unfolds between the new crew members. This is where character comes in too, because while each of our protagonists starts out the book as decidedly UNlikable, they grow and change so dramatically when they are forced to take their lives into their own hands. Susan, our narrator heroine, in particular has an astonishing character arc, metamorphosing from apathetic hot brat chick to capable, brave, and keenly intelligent leader.
Honestly, there's very little NOT to love with Losers In Space. There's a dramatic, action-packed plot, involving some truly great characters with their own flaws and strengths. There's the satirical quality of the book, explicating our own society's fascination with fame and infamy (and, though I don't agree with it, some not-so-subtle commentary regarding Intellectual Property and the current judicial system). Of course, there's the glorious plausible well-researched and impeccably explained science. Wrap that all together, and you get one hell of a book.
I loved Losers In Space truly, deeply and passionately. Chalk it up to another book on my Top 10 of 2012 list. Absolutely recommended to readers of ALL ages....more
For all seventeen years of her young life, Tess has been certain of just a few things: that her father is a bOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
For all seventeen years of her young life, Tess has been certain of just a few things: that her father is a brute that takes out his rage on his wife and daughter with his fists, that she would rather grow old alone or run away to the confines of the forbidden Dragonswood rather than be married off to any man, and that she must never ever reveal her secret ability to see the future in fire. Beyond the beatings, fear and hate Tess has for her father, the blacksmith, her family has also been torn by tragedy - her six baby sisters and brother have all died, consumed by inexplicable illness. Then, when the beautiful and fierce Lady Adela rides into Tess's small village on a crusade to expose, torture, and punish witches, Tess's small, unhappy life will be plunged into greater darkness. Tess is accused of being a witch, guilty of killing her family and hexing others, as well as consorting in the Dragonswood with Satan. Though Tess vehemently opposes these charges, she is taken away for terrifying questioning. Under Lady Adela's cruel torture, Tess betrays the names of her two best friends, Poppy and Meg, confessing that the three of them had gone into the forbidden Dragonswood.
Escaping her own trial by wit and luck, Tess and her friends must now flee their village, before the witch hunter can find them. Under the guise of lepers, the three girls leave their homes and search for help. Then, the women stumble across Garth, a woodward charged with guarding the Dragonswood for the King - and a man that Tess has seen with her firesight. Garth offers sanctuary, but Tess finds it hard to trust in his aid. She knows that Garth is hiding something - what she doesn't know, however, is that his secret, and her own secrets, will change the course of destiny for the entirety of the Wilde Island Kingdom - human, fay, and dragon alike.
Well...wow. Dragonswood is an amazingly potent novel, with rich imagery, vivid characters, and a refreshing tendency against the obvious. This is a book that could so easily have been a formulaic regurgitation of any number of pale romantic YA fey/fantasy novels on the market - but instead we get a careful, atmospheric novel that has its own happy ever after, but that comes at a price. In many ways Dragonswood is reminiscent of one of my favorite fantasy authors, Juliet Marillier. The Wilde Island kingdom - a subset of Britain (I'm assuming?) - feels very much like the isolated and magical Sevenwaters, where the fey are meddling, fickle with their favor, and utterly dangerous with their own plans and machinations. Like Sevenwaters, Wilde Island has its own potent prophecy that will change everything, though the cost of that prophecy, and the truth of its form, is deceptive. It is this prophecy that is the impetus for the story (though our protagonists hardly realize it); it is this outlawed tale that changes the destined paths of our heroes in Dragonswood.
And truly, what would a tale called Dragonswood be without those eponymous beasts? Fear not, dear readers - here be dragons. And they are wonderful. There is an intricate balance of power between the dragons, the fey, and the humans in this kingdom, and I love how the royal line (the Pendragons, naturally) is descended from dragons and takes on their appearance with scales on some part of their bodies.[2. Though, I'll admit that I wasn't aware that this actually was book 2 in a series until after reading Dragonswood - and then I found out that book 1 deals with this dragon-human heritage and that backstory. Needless to say, I've purchased that book, Dragon's Keep, and I'll be diving in very soon.] For all that these iconic creatures are very traditional in their appearance and portrayal in this novel, Ms. Carey's imaginative story and gorgeous writing make these mythologies feel fresh and exciting. In addition to featuring these different characters, there's also a loose bond to the Arthurian legend, as Merlin, the Pendragon clan, and they fey of lake and wood, all are woven into this book.
As for the characters, I both love and am skeptical regarding protagonist Tess. Something that bothers me intensely in many historical novels is the imposition of very contemporary and learned attitudes. In Tess's case, she begins the novel with the mindset of someone born a millennia later - she's fiercely independent, will bow to no man, and yearns to make her own money and way in the world. While of course this is admirable and doubtless there may have been women with these same ambitions in the twelfth century, Tess's singular defiance of convention feels false. This criticism said, as a heroine I did love that Tess is not infallible - from the opening chapters, she betrays her friends! But her actions are human and understandable, and I loved the genuine passion behind her actions, even when she makes her missteps. As for Garth, he's also somewhat contemporary and forward thinking for his time, but to a much lesser degree than Tess, and I had no trouble believing in him as a character. Like Tess, Garth is not a perfect person and guilty of any number of understandable faults - his attention to beguiling beauty, his judgmental behavior when he learns of Tess's betrayal. I love that these two characters are flawed, but ultimately with their hearts in the right place, and I love the way their stories intertwine.
What else can I say about Dragonswood? It is a beautiful, historical fantasy novel that delivers happiness without being saccharine, and introduces a haunting world where myths and legends cling desperately to their slipping power. I loved this book, and it is a shoo-in for my Notable Reads of the year - even possibly a top 10 pick. ...more
Ana: You might not remember this but Jemisin’s debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms knocked my socks off so completely I becameFirst Impressions:
Ana: You might not remember this but Jemisin’s debut novel The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms knocked my socks off so completely I became an insta-fan. Thus, it was a non-brainer that I would be reading her new Dreamblood Duology especially considering its Ancient Egypt-inspired setting (hey, growing up I wanted to be an Egyptologist). And HOLY MOLY, for its beautifully realised setting, its complex characters, its brilliantly developed story, The Killing Moon is made of 100% Awesome so excuse me if I gush my way through this review.
Thea: WHAT ANA SAID! I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, though admittedly I wasn’t *quite* as enamored as Ana and the rest of the blogging world. Still, I love N.K. Jemisin’s writing style and was eager to read her new work, and both Ana and I were counting down the days to the release of the Dreamblood duology. And wouldn’t you know it? THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. Seriously. Amazing. In my humble opinion, it is light-years better than The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and already has cemented a spot on my top 10 books of 2012 list. Yep, it’s THAT good.
On the Plot:
I can’t get over how utterly fascinating the world created by Jemisin is. Inspired by Ancient Egypt but completely different, this is not our Earth but a different world altogether where two moons rise in the sky every night – the Waking Moon and the Dreaming Moon. A world where the daughter Goddess of the former is worshipped by the citizens of Gujaareh, a grand city-state where peace is the law. To uphold it, priests and priestesses of the great temple harvest the dreams of its inhabitants and use that magic to heal, soothe and guide the Good Ones into the dream-life but also to kill the corrupt.
The story itself follows three main characters (more on those later) – all of them sharing the narrative – as they get caught up in a conspiracy to take control over the city. As the story slowly unfolds, the level of corruption within Gujaareh is shown to be rooted in all of its corners.
Gripping. Fascinating. Cool. All these mighty fine words that can be used to describe The Killing Moon. From lavish descriptions of Gujaareh and its temples and palaces to the detailed aspects of the social, political and religious structures, all of them intrinsically connected around the worship of the Goddess of Dreams, all is superbly well done. Although at points I did think there was a certain excess of exposition, I can’t deny that I gobbled it all up with pleasure. Although it is clear from early on who is behind the conspiracy that, I feel, is not the point of the story – the point is not only the HOW and the WHY but also the ways that said conspiracy and its motivation impact or will impact in the Modus Vivendi of not only the Gujaareh people but also of other peoples. Beyond that, even despite the originality of the setting, the idea behind the magic system being rooted in dream theory and the Dream-world as a PLACE reminded me a lot of Gaiman’s Sandman (not to mention that I thought of the Corinthian as well when the Reaper starts to make an appearance ) and this is a very positive thing in my book.
Also and I don’t think I can emphasise enough the level of coolness present in The Killing Moon but: NINJA PRIESTS. Yeah, baby.
So yeah: Gripping. Fascinating. Cool. But I have yet another favourite word to use and that is: thought-provoking. Because beyond the setting, the characters and the plot, there is the belief system that is connected with the dream world, a belief system that is also kind of a medical system which is – at least in theory – available to all. But is it? That’s when corruption comes into place – not only corruption in terms of ambition and power but also corruption of the very ideals that should support this system. One of the most interesting things about the book is the belief that the corruption of the soul is different from corruptions of actions. This means that even a monstrous act can be constructed as something good depending on the meaning behind it – like for example ultimate Good or Peace. Of course who can possibly judge what constitutes ultimate good for all? I watched it all unfold with a mix of fascination and abject horror.
Thea: Yes, yes, everything Ana said. I, too, love the fascinating world that Ms. Jemisin has created with The Killing Moon and am in awe at the depth and scope of its complexity. The setting of this duology comprises different cultures and peoples – of which the Gujaareh is just one subset, juxtaposed against different belief systems, hierarchies, and people. The story centers around the powerful city of Gujaareh, the City of Dreams or Hananja’s city, with its dedication to peace above all else. Named for and honoring their Goddess Hananja, daughter of the Sun and Dreaming Moon, the Gujaareen value stability and use their magics derived from the four dream-humors to achieve this peace. Enforced by the crown Prince and the forboding religious body of the Hetawa, none are more feared or revered in Gujaareh than the Gatherers – magic-wielding warrior (ok, NINJA) priests that have the ability to harvest ‘dreamblood’ (the most potent of the four dream-humors), sending souls free of their earthly husks and into the world of eternal peace of dreams.
Clearly, this is a complex world! What is so impressive about Gujaareh (and the other peoples we see in this book, particularly those of Kisua) is in its utterly fantastic holistic believability. We believe in this world and its characters because the culture is so well defined, the rules of magic so wholly conceived, the tensions between classes, between natives and foreigners, so utterly genuine. Reading a society like that of the Gujaareen makes it so glaringly apparent how lacking so many contemporary fantasy novels are in comparison – N.K. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is of the highest grade, and nigh unparalleled.
Add to this the wonder of a society that is not based on a Western (or Eastern) European pantheon! Add to this, the gorgeously intricate, wholly imaginative system that uses ancient Egypt as a base of inspiration – and I don’t mean gilded pharaohs and pyramids and whatever cliched visions we might have of Egypt. I’m talking Goddess of the afterlife, priests with great and terrible powers, the concept of soul (ba, ka, and all other elements), and more. I also love that this world is one of people of color – for the Kisuati protagonist Sunandi, dark skin is a demarcation of class – those with lighter skin have bloodlines ‘tainted’ by outsiders – and this inversion is both eye-opening and food for thought in a genre that is so overwhelmingly populated by white heroes and heroines.
There are so many other complexities that I could wax on about, too – the treatment of women (the interesting tension between ‘revering’ women as masters of the home, versus those Sisters of Hananja that serve the Gujaareh outside of the hierarchy of the male priesthood and Hetawa), the examination of desire in all its forms, the tension between acceptance of same-gender relationships and the denial of love.
And I have barely even talked of the story proper, which is a mystery of corruption, politics, intrigue and madness on a fantastic scale. I love that the book follows three protagonists – the Gatherer (with a very interesting past) Ehiru, his devoted young apprentice Nijiri, and the Kitsuati spy/ambassador, “Voice” of the Protectorate, Sunandi. There is corruption at the heart of Gujaareh, and it binds these three lives together in unexpected ways – they must find the source of the madness, stop the Reaper before it consumes the souls of the innocent, and restore justice before war tears apart their different countries.
Suffice to say, there is much going on in The Killing Moon and I. Loved. It. All.
On the Characters:
Ana: The three main characters of this story are: Ehiru, a powerful Gatherer who is completely devoted to his beliefs but on the brink of becoming the thing he fears and despises the most – a corrupted Reaper; Nijiri, Ehiru’s young Gatherer apprentice, completely dedicated to his master, willing to do anything to keep him safe; and Sunandi, a diplomat (and spy) from another state, ready to unveil the truth of Gujaareh’s corruption to the world.
It is through their point of view that we see and hear Gujareeh and its intricacies. It is in their characters’ arc that all the complexity of this world is explored and played out. All of them one way or another are faced with truths, challenges and have to make decisions or revise their opinions. In them, Jemisin explores brilliantly the very idea of an ever-evolving world in terms of its ideals and beliefs.
These are compelling, complex characters that develop relationships with each other that are equally complex in ways that are not simply woven. Ehiru and Nijiri’s relationship is a beautifully rendered relationship between Master and Disciple but also one that has difficult aspects connected to it as Nijiri is in love with his master. Ehiru’s reliance on that love – despite not reciprocating it in the same way – is not only understandable given the circumstances but also somewhat despicable. That I can feel sympathy for these characters even as they commit acts I absolutely abhorred – Ehiru and Nijiri are after all, killers in the name of peace, mercy and love – is part of what I loved about this book.
Sunandi on the other hand, provides that outsider look whose take is a bit different from those and who doesn’t pull any punches. Her own beliefs dictate her distaste for what Ehiru and Nijiri do and at points I felt she was MY voice. I loved Sunandi and she was probably my favourite character all things considered. Although I will admit a soft spot for Nijiri.
Thea: Again, what Ana said! The trio of protagonists each offer a different counterpoint and perspective, not only in terms of narration but in terms of belief. Because I am a sucker for a strong, conflicted and flawed heroine, Sunandi is my favorite character of the three. I love that Sunandi is the outsider of this piece, a non Gujareen, and brings an entirely new set of eyes to the customs, traditions, and beliefs enacted by her hosts. She questions and abhors the practice of Gathering, for example, which through the eyes of Ehiru and Nijiri are beautiful, essential rites that free the ailing, bring justice to the corrupt, and power their beloved city.
That’s not to say the Sunandi is a perfect character, because she certainly has her own sizable flaws. Judgmental to a fault, in one scene Sunandi immediately writes off her hosts because she perceives that they treat servants as slaves (when clearly they deserve basic courtesy and acknowledgement) – but in the next breath, she criticizes the skin tone of the Gujareen Prince, who is too light-skinned to be of untainted lineage.
Also, Ehiru and Nijiri are wonderful characters in their own right, with their own struggles and foibles. Ehiru mourns a failed gathering and the discover of corruption in his beloved city amongst the ranks of the Hetawa, while Nijiri struggles with his own deep burning love for his mentor and friend. These struggles, compiled with the larger storyline and conflict, are wonderfully wrought, and I felt deeply for all of these characters.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Quite possibly one of the best Fantasy novels I’ve read of late and definitely a top 10 read of 2012. I also really need The Shadowed Sun now.
Thea: Agreed. I loved this novel deeply, and I cannot wait for The Shadowed Sun. The Killing Moon, to put it simply, is the best book I have read in 2012 thus far....more
An orphan and gifted sneak thief, fifteen year old Sage has managed to get by since theOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers: http://bit.ly/HpTgmA
An orphan and gifted sneak thief, fifteen year old Sage has managed to get by since the death of his barmaid mother and drunken musician father. Passed from orphanage to orphanage, Sage has a wry but upbeat outlook on life. He steals what food he must to survive, and doesn't get caught. Well, he manages to talk his way out when he is caught. Most of the time.
Returning from his last unsuccessful heist (word to the wise: stealing a hot full roast is no small feat, since fresh meat is slippery), Sage finds a stranger and nobleman waiting for him at the orphanage - a nobleman that has purchased Sage for a treacherous, even traitorous plot. A high ranking and ambitious regent, Lord Conner forcibly takes an unwilling Sage back to his estate, along with two similar-looking young men - both of whom are also orphans, and both of whom also look very much like Sage.
The kingdom of Carthya is on the brink of war with its neighbors, and Conner's hand has been forced to take a desperate last gamble to preserve peace (and install himself in a position of power). He reveals to Sage, Tobias and Roden that the King, Queen and prince heir Darius have been murdered - a truth that has been kept under wraps to buy Conner time to put his plan into action. Four years ago, there was another heir to the throne - an impetuous nine year old prince named Jaron, who was sent away from his family because of his trouble-causing antics. Jaron has been written off as dead following the attack four years earlier, believed to have been killed by pirates.
It is Conner's plan to bring Jaron back from the dead, with one of the orphan boys he has selected and groomed for the job as his puppet monarch.
Sage wants nothing to do with becoming King of Carthya, or bending to Conner's will, and participating in the charade. But obey, or at least the appear to obey, Sage must, for Conner will ruthlessly stop anyone in his path. And to not be chosen as the false prince means death.
There are many familiar elements to The False Prince, from the trained puppet pretender to the throne aspect, to a sort of prince and the pauper kind of vibe. Of course, the most direct and immediate comparison is to that of Megan Whalen Turner's much beloved The Thief - but more on that in a bit. For all the the elements of the novel are familiar and the twists predictable, I absolutely ADORED this book and devoured it in a single sitting.
So what makes The False Prince so fantastic and memorable? The bulk of the responsibility for this success has to lie with the writing style and the character of Sage himself. The danger facing Carthya is imminent and believable, and the tensions that divide the kingdom with power hungry Regents - such as Conner - are wonderfully well-drawn. The story proper hinges on the selection of the false prince, which, interestingly, Sage has no desire to become (though readers know and root for his selection, of course). While there isn't really any doubt that Sage is going to become the prince, he tries his hardest to rebel against Conner's plot at great personal cost and injury. This can be infuriating at times, but all becomes clear - especially regarding Sage's motives - as the novel progresses.
Of course, there's Sage's voice itself, which truly drives the book. Narrated in the limited third person with insight only to Sage's thoughts, you can't help but fall in love with the brazen, smart-mouthed orphan and thief. Sage himself, and the story of The False Prince at large, is incredibly similar to Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief and there are undeniable similarities between her Eugenides and our own Sage. But...truth be told? I like Sage and his story a whole lot more.
*ducks rotted produce*
I truly enjoyed The Thief and The Queen of Attolia but lacked any real emotional connection to either Eugenides or his Queen. In The False Prince, though, that connection I so desperately wanted in the aforementioned novels was finally forged - there's something about Sage's cocky attitude, with his big heart and sharp intellect that completely won me over from the very beginning. Beyond Sage, the secondary characters are also fantastic, and I love that not everyone is what they seem from first glance. Our initial perceptions of characters are not always correct, and I love that turnaround in the novel, particularly as it applies to the snooty Tobias, the cunning Conner, and the servant Mott. I felt like the conclusion of this book, too, was incredibly satisfying and well-executed, complete with the equivalent of a parlor reveal scene and an undeniably irresistible hook for the next book in the series.
The False Prince is the best book I've read in 2012 thus far, and I absolutely cannot wait for book 2 in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended....more
It has been four months since the dramatic events of Plague – after a superflu has ravaged the children of the FAYZ, after Sam and his crew have found an alternate source of freshwater up by the lake, and after the remaining survivors have split into two distinct groups. Perdido Beach now belongs to the self-appointed “king” Caine, who rules with brutality, with the wary backing of the business-minded Albert. Meanwhile, Sam and the rest of the crew (including the now pregnant Diana) have moved up to the Lake, creating a secondary settlement, with one exception. Astrid – the genius, the saint, Sam’s long-term girlfriend – has left the group to live on her own for four long months, as penance for sacrificing her younger brother Petey in a desperate attempt to end the nightmare of the FAYZ once and for all.
But nothing has changed. Even with the unparalleled, immensely powerful autistic Petey gone, the barrier still remains, separating the children of the FAYZ from the outside world. To atone, Astrid leaves the group for four long months, learning to fend for herself and to make peace with her decisions. But then she notices something that cannot be ignored, and Astrid must return to the group, to Sam, to prepare everyone for the fear of what lies ahead.
Because the FAYZ is changing.
A dark stain spreads along the barrier.
Soon, the stain will cover the entire dome, leaving all of those within its confines eternally deprived of light. Without light, there is no food. There is no hope. There is only fear.
Sam and his friends know that this change can only mean that the FAYZ is entering its end game. And in the darkness, the evil known only as the Gaiaphage lashes out, making one last desperate play for the lives of everyone imprisoned within the FAYZ.
The penultimate novel in the Gone series, Fear is a terrifying, maddening rush of a book. There’s a palpable feeling of impending doom throughout this latest installment, and just like the kids of the FAYZ readers can also sense that the series is reaching its frenetic peak; we can sense that the end game is near, though like Sam and Astrid and everyone else, we are almost completely in the dark as to what shape that end game will take.
Damn, but I love this series.
It’s hard to write a review for a new book in the Gone sextet. If you’ve read this far along, you know this series is unflinchingly brutal. You know that murder is commonplace, that horrific mutations are par for the course, and that power struggles between the different factions within the FAYZ are secondary to the terror that is inspired by the Gaiaphage and his loyal servant Drake/Brittney. In Fear, stakes are escalated yet again. The driving force of this novel is the essence of fear itself, with the impending neverending darkness that threatens the FAYZ – which means a slow death by starvation, as no food will grow, no fish can be caught, and children will turn on each other, burning down whatever they can to create light. The other fear, however, is within certain characters. This time around, Penny, the sadistic girl who can make realistic hallucinations that can break a person’s mind, gets a leading role. I love that we learn about Penny from her perspective and we gradually understand why she has become this broken, insane girl bent on hate and pain. She’s a formidable villain, and her end in Fear does NOT bode well for the remaining survivors of the FAYZ. Let’s just say, Whip Hand Drake now has some competition for most terrifying monster.
Fear is also a turning point for a number of our core heroes – particularly for Astrid. THIS is what I have been waiting for from Astrid, an emotional, raw reaction to everything that has happened, and an evaluation of her own choices and position. To this point, Astrid has remained that aloof, untouchable ice princess, and a genius that might be too smart for her own good. The predictable, dichotomous divide between Virgin/Good Astrid and Whore/Bad Diana has always bothered me, but in Fear, things…change. Astrid’s character has gone through the ringer, and she is finally given more depth as a character beyond the sanctimonious girl she has been for most of the series. I like that. A lot. Speaking of Diana, while she takes backseat for much of Fear, her particular arc – that of her pregnancy – is integral to the novel as it builds to its climactic end. Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Sam’s own journey. It takes him 4 books to get to the realization that he isn’t a good manager or delegator, but the revelation hits home in Fear. Sam is a warrior, and that he can finally admit that speaks volumes to his growth as a character. So many other characters are appreciated in this book and have grown into their own – I loved Quinn’s role as leader of the fishermen, the change in Lana the healer, and the realization that Dekka has regarding her and The Breeze. Suffice to say, there is a lot of growing up in this book.
From a plotting perspective, there isn’t much I can say specifically without treading in spoiler-infested waters. Petey has disappeared, but isn’t truly gone; meanwhile something is happening to the Gaiaphage, and to the FAYZ itself. For the first time, in Fear we also get a parallel minor narrative running outside of the Dome, with desperate parents fighting against a military that seems bent on keeping secrets. From the outside, they can also see that something is happening to the impenetrable bubble, and actions are being taken to end things once and for all.
This is a complex story, folks. In many ways, it’s like the much beloved television show Lost, with its ensemble cast, brutality and supernatural slant. And, if you were ever a Lost fan, you know that those writers loved to end on WTF!POLARBEAR-like cliffhangers. Such is Fear.
Needless to say, I loved this book. I loved the growth in characters, the crescendo of terror that builds from page one and the ugly, dramatic showdown that closes out the novel some five hundred pages later. If you have stuck with the series this far, you are in for one hell of a ride. Absolutely recommended, and in the running for one of my favorite novels of 2012 thus far.
The countdown begins to the ultimate novel, Light. I cannot wait....more