And I am SO glad I did. My own take? I love it. I agree with those who say this is a feminist book. I think September Girls is not only NOT sexist, but also quite the opposite: I think it challenges sexism directly in a myriad of ways but also does so metaphorically. It questions patriarchy, the idea of “manhood” very explicitly and it does so in a beautifully written, languid, thought-provoking story. It’s absolutely one of my favourite reads this year.
Allow me to expound on why. Please note: I am hoping it is clear that I am not attacking different readings of September Girls but I feel I need to interact directly with some of the sexism claims because to me it is important to offer a different take. So here is my deconstruction of the novel and most importantly, of the claims of sexism levelled at it.
WARNING: ALL THE SPOILERS.
The story is mostly narrated by Sam, a young 17-year-old boy who is spending his summer with his father and brother Jeff at a remote beach house in a sleepy location full of strange, beautiful Girls. Sam addresses them with the capital G because they are so other: all equally blond, all equally weird, all beautiful, extremely sexy and – unexpectedly – coming on to him. When he meets DeeDee, one of the Girls, they start to fall for each other. Then he learns what the Girls really are.
September Girls is a dark, twisted, fucked-up fairytale in which mermaids (or beings that are very similar to mermaids) have been cursed by their Father . Sam shares the narrative with one of the Girls who is telling him – us – everything about them in this eerie, amazing tale. It’s almost like a siren song.
We are told that: their father curses them because he hated their Mother, who is called a Whore:
“We have been told that she was a whore, although we can’t remember who told us that, and we often find ourselves arguing over the true definition of whore.”
We are told that: the curse entails being sent away from home abruptly and with very vague memories of why and how. They show up at the shore one day, naked and barely formed. They can’t swim. Their feet hurt with every step. They don’t know how to speak, what to think and they don’t even remember their names:
“We come here without names. There are the names they call us. But those aren’t our names. The names they call us are not hard to guess. Comehere, Wheresmyfood, Trysmilingsometime, and Suckonthis are four common ones, but the list goes predictably on from there and only gets uglier. Those are the names they call us. Those are not our names. We choose our own names.”
We are told that: they have no identity or memory but they know that to break the curse they need to find a good, virgin boy to have sex with and so they must forge their identify in the way that will work best for them in attracting those boys. They forge it by the most immediate things they see in front of them: fashion magazines and TV shows and thus they realise that becoming sexy, blond girls will give them the best chance to break the curse:
“We crawl onto land naked. We learn which clothes to wear. We learn how to do our makeup, how to style our hair. How to toss it with sexiness that appears unconsidered. The women think we’re tacky, but we’re not interested in the opinions of women anymore. We learned long ago how unimportant the opinions of women are. We are here because our mother could not protect us. We are here because our father had an ‘opinion’ “.
We are told that: when they finally find a Virgin boy, their curse does not allow them to act – they must always wait for the guy to notice them. Only when the curse is broken can they return to their elusive home. They are all sisters but sisterhood is dangerous.
And it’s all horrible and unfair and just like Sam says at one point: these Girls’ parents are real fucking assholes.
A possible reading is to take those quotes and the curse itself at face value – they do sound incredibly misogynistic. That’s because they are. That is in fact, the point. If that curse and those quotes I chose are not a brilliant, REALLY OBVIOUS metaphor for how girls experience sexism in our society as well as an example of the weight of unfair expectations bearing on them, I don’t know anything anymore.
In a way I think the best criticism that could be levelled at the book is that at the end of the day, this could still be construed as a book that shows female suffering as a means to talk about feminism. And given that the way to break a curse is to have sex with a virgin boy, this could still be construed as a book that puts a lot of power on the hands of the male. That said, with regards to the former, ours is a world in which women do experience sexism every single day and even though I love to see diverse stories where those are not perpetuated, I also want to see stories that do acknowledge that, that do acknowledge the wtfuckery of fairytales and of ridiculous curses and above all, I want to read stories like this one which does exactly that in the way that it so cleverly addresses sexism and patriarchy.
My reading is that this curse is a mirror. It is a mirror reflecting our world – but in many ways it is also a broken mirror because the questioning is always there. It’s in the way that the Girls DO form friendships with each other. In the way that the Girls DO try to break the curse in a myriad of ways by attempting to leave the beach and the town: Girls have almost died trying. There are those who challenge the rules and those who simply accept their deaths without breaking the curse. And it’s not even a heteronormative story either: girls have fallen in love with other girls as well. This book would be a bad, sexist idea if the sexism wasn’t challenged at every step of the way, if their Father wasn’t presented as a raging misogynist who is worthy of contempt.
Reading is such an awesome thing and as I said, my aim is not to discredit other people’s readings of the book. I truly find fascinating the ways that readers have interacted with September Girls. There is for example, a passage that has been quoted in several reviews and used to support the claims of misogyny and sexism and slut shaming. I wanted to quote it here to as support exactly the opposite. In it DeeDee and Sam are chatting after her reading of the Bible:
“I like the parts about hos, even if they always come to a bad end. Eat a fucking apple, you’re a ho. Open a box, you’re a ho. Some guy looks at you: turn to stone, ho. See you later, ho. It’s always the same. The best one is Lilith–also a ho, but a different kind of ho. She went and got her own little thing going, and for that she gets to be an eternal demon queen, lucky her. No one likes a ho. Except when they do, which, obviously, is most of the time. Doesn’t make a difference; she always gets hers eventually.”
To me this passage is incredibly subversive and sarcastic. It shows that DeeDee is fully aware. To support my claim of awareness, she even says a bit later on: “I actually like hos myself. Maybe I am one – I barely know what counts anymore”. She has read feminist tracts and understands how society works: “I love how when boys have a completely unacceptable habit like peeing in the sink, science actually goes to all the trouble to come up with a justification for it.” Or when Sam “congratulates” her for having opinions, she says: “Oh, thank you, I’m so glad you approve of me having a thought in my brain.”
So to me? DeeDee = fucking awesome.
BUT even if taken at face value, even if we want to believe that DeeDee IS slut shaming in the Bible quote, it would also be ok in the context of this novel. Because there are Girls who do not question. There are Girls who simply go about doing what they are supposed to do. And that is also a significant way to portray internalized, unquestioned sexism – we are all part of this world after all and are all subject to sexist messages all the time. This is all the more clear in the book with regards to the Girls.
So I have written all of that and so far haven’t even touched on the subject of Sam and his dick or Sam and his raging sexism and how those connect to some of the criticism I have seen with regards to the book: the language used, the continuous swearing as well as references to sex and to private parts. To wit: I understand that each reader has different thresholds for what they like to read and how much cursing they can take and September Girls can be seen as extremely crass in parts.
But to me, it was not really crass as much as it is straightforward and bullshit-less. To me, Sam has a healthy relationship with his dick – he calls it a dick, he likes to masturbate and gets boners. There is this one time, he thinks to himself that all he wanted to do was to go home, relax and masturbate and go to sleep and – this is probably Too Much Information but at this point, I don’t really care anymore – I TOTALLY GET THIS, BRO.
There is also this one scene in particular that a lot of readers see problems with in which he is staring at this beautiful beach, he is feeling the sun on his back, it’s the first day of his summer holidays and he says something like “I felt a heaviness in my dick”. I totally get how sensual moments like these are, you know? But also, this is not all that moment entails: the heaviness in his dick is because:
“I felt strong and solid, more myself – the best version of myself, I mean – than I had in a while.”
The contextual meanings of all of this is that Sam is learning who he is, he is searching for an identity and to an understanding of what it means to be a “man”. This is a recurrent theme in the novel. This is the main point of the novel. As early as page ONE Sam talks about his father and brother thusly:
“The most obnoxious thing about them was their tendency to land on the topic of my supposedly impeding manhood: that it was time to be a man, or man up, or act like a man, et cetera, et cetera. The whole subject was creepy – which vague implications of unmentionable things involving body hair – but the most embarrassing part was basically just how meaningless it all was. As if one day you’re just a normal person, and then the next – ta-da! – a man, as if someone would even notice the difference.”
So for the entire book Sam is struggling with the idea of “manhood”. He is directly and explicitly struggling to understand what is it that makes a boy a man. His brother Jeff and his best friend Sebastian constantly sprout deeply offensive and sexist language when talking about girls. They use gendered insults all the time: “don’t be a pussy Sam”. And Sam – even though he feels uncomfortable hearing those messages – to start with, also uses that language, also refers to girls in a demeaning way. But the more his arc progresses, the more he changes.
He is not completely clueless because the questioning is there from the start as evidenced by the quote above but he is not quite there yet so throughout the book he says horrible things, he thinks sexist thoughts. And this just brings me back to how the narrative does not condone this, because it constantly puts Sam’s – and Jeff’s – ideas in check. And I like how the narrative does allow for sympathy for Sam (as well as for douchebag Jeff) as another boy struggling to break free of internalized sexism. But the point is: he grows out of it. He grows out of it beautifully by learning to respect and love the women in his life. And we are not talking about simply romantic love either although there is some of it. He learns to understand and sympathise with his mother, he forges friendships with other Girls and he falls in love with DeeDee. And love is a HUGE catalyst for change in this book but I really appreciated the way that love is not the end-all/be-all that will solve everybody’s problems. Quite the opposite in fact.
Speaking of Sam’s mom: this is another brilliant aspect of the book for me. Her arc to me, reads as an incredibly feminist arc. To begin with, Sam is the one to describe what happened to his mother and he does so by being completely oblivious: he talks about how his mom one day started going online, becoming addicted to Facebook, then reading the SCUM Manifesto and deciding to take off to Women’s Land to find herself. HE doesn’t understand anything about it. HE thinks his mom is crazy and has destroyed his family. THEN his mother comes back and that’s when his understanding of her takes place and it is beautiful: then we learn that his mother was struggling to understand her own life choices:
“I thought of what my father had said: about the choices she had made and the ones she was still making. She had decided to take action. Even if it had been pointless, even if it had been the wrong thing, even if it had just only led her back to us eventually, it was still action and that counted for something.”
And here is the gist of this book: it’s about choices and identity in a world that often tries to take those away from both women and men. I loved DeeDee and Sam because both are trying so hard to understand themselves and the world they live in. September Girls offers a deeper understanding of love, identity and a constant, non-stop challenge of ideas regarding “masculinity” and “femininity”.
The ending of September Girls is fucking brilliant. It’s bittersweet and fantastic as it brings the curse to its head with a twist about choices and moving on and love. The curse does not work in the way one expects it to work and the ending is so satisfying in the way that it doesn’t play into romantic expectations: love does not save anyone. This is a fairytale but not of the Disney variety (if there was any doubt). The plot itself is a languid, slow-moving summer-like story and I loved it. And now I also want to read everything Bennett Madison has ever written.
It’s a 9 from me and it will definitely be on my top 10 books of 2013.
There are some things I do understand, very thoroughly. My body is my own. The Concordia is my own. And I will do as I...moreOriginal review posted at Kirkus
There are some things I do understand, very thoroughly. My body is my own. The Concordia is my own. And I will do as I please with both.
Firebrand is a Fantasy/Steampunk Romance novel that has just made the Tiptree Award’s Honor list. The Tiptree Award is an annual prize for SciFi and Fantasy with the intention to reward works that expand our understanding of gender. Well, this bombastic combination of Fantasy/Steampunk, Romance AND gender conversation has “Ana” written all over it.
After reading it though, I find myself with mixed feelings.
When her mother dies, widow Kadia Warner inherits the Concordia, an airship that the Emperor wants for himself (and if he can bed Kadia in the bargain, all the better). Kadia is adamant that the ship and her body remain her own and flees to the neighbouring Duchy of Coranza—the one place that still remains free of the ever-growing Empire. There, she will find herself falling for its Duke as she tries to keep the Emperor’s unwanted attentions at bay.
On the one hand, Firebrand is a fun romp, following Kadia’s adventures, and there are good reasons for the book to be on the Tiptree list. Kadia is a well-developed lead, who is honest about her desires and has no qualms about it. She is adventurous in bed, has taken lovers in between her two unhappy marriages and is keen to start a sexual relationship with John, the Duke of Coranza (their sexytimes are fun and hot). The book has a multitude of female characters in positions of power that are typically presented as “male” professions (pilots, lawyers, engineers) and at the same time makes astute observations about gender inequalities and double standards applied to men and women. At one point, she argues with John about how, if he had been the one to own Concordia, the Emperor would have an entirely different strategy:
“I think he’d take you gambling and throw a parade for you in the streets of New Trinovantium, and when he tried to steal your airship he’d argue to himself that all’s fair when you’re fighting a worthy equal.” My eyes feel hot and itchy with tears, but I’m too angry to cry. “Whereas he calls me my sweet delight and threatens me.”
On the other hand, the story is kind of fleeting and many of its storylines, underdeveloped and even, possibly problematic. Firebrand is what I’d call Wallpaper Fantasy: Its fantastical elements are never truly explored in any depth. Its “Steampunk” elements—like its “clockwork” mechanisms—are mostly supernatural and magic rather than scientific and therefore Not Really Steampunk (in my not-so-humble opinion). Given how the Emperor is spreading his tentacles all over, there are questions of race, colonization and oppression that are merely glossed over and never truly addressed.
The emphasis and focus here is definitely on the romance between Kadia and John. But the extent to which one can suspend disbelief and not ask questions about setting and background when reading a Romance novel is directly related to whether the romance works or not.
The problem here is that Firebrand doesn’t work as a full-fledged romance either. The hero is of the Nice and Hot variety (as opposed to the antagonist who is Hot but Not Nice) and is a cardboard cut-out Romance Hero with a Sad Past. I know close to nothing about him beyond the fact that he is Nice and Hot and I have no idea why the heroine has fallen in love with him so fast. The vast majority of romance novels are actually written in third person and the male point of view makes up for half the narrative—I am not necessarily bemoaning the lack of a hero point of view or the first person narrative here, but I do regret that John was not nearly as developed as Kadia. Part of me thinks this is okay because Kadia is awesome on her own. But because the romance takes up so much of the story, I wish I had enjoyed this side of the novel more.
The most problematic thing for me is how the novel ends with the hero saving the day and everybody hand-waving all of the emperor’s ignominious actions throughout the book (and throughout the history within the world) including kidnapping, abusing and attempting to rape the heroine. But this is all okay because he apologizes and he might actually have a Heart of Gold and that’s it: They all live happily ever after. I am actually not entirely sure that the ending doesn’t in fact neutralize all of the gender observations the novel had made previously.
To sum up: fabulous heroine, great female characters and some genuinely good gender talk. Not so good everything else.
In Book Smugglerish, a lukewarm 5 out of 10.(less)
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Darkangel and A Gathering of Gargoyles, books 1...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Darkangel and A Gathering of Gargoyles, books 1 & 2 in the series. If you have not read these books and would like to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY! You have been warned.**
Aeriel has cut out her heart and given it to her husband and beloved Irrylath, saving him from a horrible fate as a true Darkangel. She has travelled the vast sand-filled seas to solve an ancient rime in the hopes of saving her husband and her world from the snare of the White Witch. Now, she has helped Irrylath amass an army to bring the Witch down, but faces her greatest challenge yet when she is run through with the Witch's cruel pin and her memories are robbed. Aeriel must travel to the great city of NuRavenna, and bear a precious pearl to stop the Witch and save her world from the slow death of entropy.
The third and final book in Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is powerful, climactic stuff. This is Aeriel's final showdown, and she is tested more sorely than she has ever been before - still, she harbors an unrequited love for her husband (in name only), Irrylath, and still she hopes to win his heart once she has freed him from the talons of the Witch. But, truly, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is so much larger than just Aeriel's yearning for Irrylath - it is the story of a world created and forgotten, of a daughter bent on revenge and power against her mother, and a prophecy that can guide a planet back from the brink of cold death. When I started The Pearl of the Soul of the World, it was with great trepidation. I've heard from many different people that this was their least favorite of the books, and have read reviews that were similarly underwhelmed. But you know what, fellow readers? I think this was a perfect, fitting end to a beautiful, wonderfully strange series. In fact, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is my favorite of the trilogy.
As with A Gathering of Gargoyles before it, this volume expands on the history of Aeriel's world (which is our own moon), this time explaining in depth the ancients that came from Oceanus (Earth), who brought life to a barren rock and crafted creatures to inhabit it and do their bidding. I love the beautiful integration of science fiction with fantasy in this book and series overall -this intersection of my two favorite genres is always welcome, but so rarely does it come off as effortlessly and effectively as it does with Pierce's writing. In this third book, we also learn the truth of Ravenna and Oriencor the Witch, their bond and the madness that drives the Witch to her cruel acts - I won't spoil, but it's a resonant and heartbreaking truth that is revealed, and gives us more insight and understanding of Oriencor as more than just a single-minded monster. We see familiar faces including Irrylath and Erin, my favorites of the cast - Irrylath because he is not magically in love with Aeriel and such a conflicted, dark character; Erin because of her devotion to a true friend, as protective of Aeriel as Aeriel is of her husband (in truth, I consider the love between Erin and Aeriel the true love story of this trilogy - but maybe that's just me).
But most of all? Most of all I loved watching Aeriel on her quest - first as the unwanted slave who defies and redeems a Darkangel, then as a messenger across the sands and seas, and finally, the woman on whose shoulders the weight of the world rests. It is Aeriel's strength, her choices, and her love that defines and saves her world - small, unassuming Aeriel, who is neither powerful nor some preordained-by-the-stars savior. I truly admired the gutsy, heartbreaking strain Pierce places on her heroine and the ultimate choice she must make at the end of this book. And while it might not be popular opinion, I think the ending is just as it should be: sad, yes, but ultimately hopeful and ever so powerful.
What else can I say except that I loved this book dearly, and I feel bereft now that I have finished the trilogy?
If you love fantasy, if you love science fiction, if you love stories and beautiful writing and heartbreaking characters, The Darkangel awaits. Please read it.(less)
The twelve princesses of Westfalin have finally been freed of the curse that caused them to dance every night...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
The twelve princesses of Westfalin have finally been freed of the curse that caused them to dance every night in the realm of the King-Under-Stone, but tensions in the neighboring kingdoms run high. Many eligible young princes fell prey trying to break the curse on the young princesses, and in order to make amends, the King sends his unmarried daughters accross the continent in a show of good will. Princess Poppy - impetuous, beautiful, and outspoken - draws Briton as her temporary new home. Here, she stays with her aunt, Lady Margaret, her uncle Lord Seadown, and becomes close friends with her cousin Marianne. The most frustrating thing Poppy has to deal with at the Briton court is the countless invitations to dances - after dancing every night for twelve years, Poppy is hardly in the mood to partake in any further such exertions.
But then, as it is wont to do, trouble rears its ugly head. Poppy finds herself embroiled in a magical scheme involving a magical godmother, a naive and vulnerable Earl's daughter stripped of her title and possessions, and a dastardly scheme to ensnare the Dane Prince Christian. With her understanding of enchantments and her own dogged determination, Poppy decides to take on the frightening curse that threatens to destroy her friends' and family's happiness - but to break the enchantment, it will take every ounce of Poppy's strength and ingenuity.
A very unique retelling of Cinderella, Princess of Glass is born of a killer premise: what would happen if Cinderella was just a pawn in the twisted machinations of an evil fairy godmother? I don't think I've ever read a retelling as boldly different as this one - Cinderella (that is, Eleanora, or "Lady Ella") is actually a bit of an unlikable brat, easily taken in by someone that very clearly does not have her best interests at heart. And why should she? What on earth does the fairy godmother in this particular fairy tale have to gain? I absolutely love this darker, more sinister twist, plus I love that our heroine is Princess Poppy, who is on the outside of the enchantment. This of course causes some strange complications, particularly in the likability scale of these different characters. For example, I loved Princess Poppy - she's brash and confident, headstrong and no-nonsense (basically, everything I love in a heroine). She also is snappishly judgmental at times, lending an air of believability to an otherwise Beautiful Disney Princess type of character. In contrast, Eleanora/Lady Ellen is a bit of a brat - we see why she is so bitter and so easily taken in by the Corley, but that doesn't change how distinctly unlikable she is for most of the book.
Other characters are similarly conflicted: in particular, the figure of Lord Seadown. It's interesting that that Lord Seadown welcomes Eleanora with open arms, but only after the fact of her enchantment is known - this sits oddly as Eleanora has been working in his household for a while, and Lord Seadown knows about the circumstances that led to her family's ruin (as he even played a hand in their demise). This, plus some of the strange comments that Poppy makes towards servants and the serving class don't sit well in my mind - on the one hand, I appreciate the brilliant and realistic portrayal of snooty royals that seem to think servants exist for their every need and should be happy to dote on their every desire. On the other hand, the whole divide and attitude is unsettling and makes these characters hard to like or truly recommend.
From a storytelling perspective, Princess of Glass is a fairly straightforward tale, though written remarkably well. There is a handsome prince (whom of course falls in love with the tough-nosed but devastatingly beautiful Poppy) and there is a kindly older brother type character that has conveniently studied magic arts in his trips to the exotic east (yes, the words "exotic east" are used; yes, it is irritating). There's the sweet, but less beautiful and talented cousin character in Marianne, who has her own nonthreatening love interest. On that note, the romances are strictly of the PG variety - which is fine and dandy, if it feels all a bit sanitized and shallow. Especially in contrast to the darker matters of Ella's enchantment and the deliciously frightening figure of the Corley. I only wish that this darkness had been more fully realized to add some dimension to the novel.
My only other complaint regarding the book is that everyone seems so damned pretty and rich and...well...privileged. This is a proper, traditional Princess story, and if you're looking for a story about beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful palaces, Princess of Glass is a good bet. But for me? Well...let's just say it's not to my particular tastes.
Ultimately, I enjoyed Princess of Glass, but I'm still missing that perfect spellbinding moment of YES THIS IS WHAT I WANT from Jessica Day George. I'm curious and hopeful, however, to see if Princess of the Silver Woods is my silver bullet.(less)
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle m...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle makes her home. After her father, a fisherman, rows out his ship and never returns, Peri's mother lapses into quiet despair, forgetting to talk and always staring out at the roiling sea and fantasizing about the people that live in its depths. Without her parents to watch over her or remind her to do things like brush her hair or hem her clothes, Peri grows from a quiet child to a wild and somewhat neglected young woman - her hair always a tangle, her dresses bleached of all color, too tight in some places, too loose in others. Even the old wise woman who used to brush Peri's hair in her small cottage disappears one day, leaving Peri without anyone to care for her at all. During the day, she works at the local inn, scrubbing floors and cleaning rooms; by night, she returns to the old woman's cottage and makes her own isolated home where she plots her revenge against the sea. Hateful of the ocean that has taken both of her parents away, Peri crafts three crude hexes to curse the sea - it is here that she meets Prince Kir, who also knew the wise woman and years for her counsel. Kir has deep troubles of his own, also connected to the watery depths, and hopes that Peri can help him make his peace with the ocean that haunts his every waking moment. When Peri finishes her hexes and throws them deep into the great water, she also includes an offering from Kir - and to Peri's great astonishment, her hexes start to work.
A great sea dragon starts to appear amongst the fishermen's boats on the sea, with an impossibly large gold chain around its neck. Then, a magician comes to town, promising that he will be able to remove the chain and give the gold to the villagers - for a price. And most importantly, Kir's dreams of the sea grow more fevered and frantic, as his own unknown, hidden past catches up to him. And it is all up to Periwinkle to set everything back to rights.
To date, I've only read a handful of books and short stories from Patricia McKillip, mostly her recent releases. The Changeling Sea, however, is one of McKillip's earlier works, originally published in the 1980s and instantly endeared itself to me - a changeling fable that takes place by the stormy sea? What better place to jump into McKillip's rich and extensive backlist? And you know what? I absolutely loved this book. Shortly put: The Changeling Sea is another gorgeous, wonderful book from the incredibly talented McKillip.
I'm going to say something that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is so very true: Patricia McKillip has a way with words that is simply magical. Like The Bell at Sealey Head or The Bards of Bone Plain, The Changeling Sea is a slender book, but one written with lush and evocative prose that is as beautiful as it is simple. For example:
A sigh, smelling of shrimp and seaweed, wafted over the water... In the deep waters beyond the stones, a great flaming sea-thing gazed back at her, big as a house or two, its mouth a strainer like the mouth of a baleen whale, its translucent fiery streamers coiling and uncoiling languorously in the warm waters. The brow fins over its wide eyes gave it a surprised expression. Around its neck, like a dog collar, was a massive chain of pure gold.
Beautiful, no? Such is McKillip's writing, littered throughout with these gleaming gems of description and story.
Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.
As the title suggests, The Changeling Sea is a fable about a changeling, and a story whose heart is inextricably tied to the sea. It's a book about love - no, scratch that. It's actually a book about yearning for what once was, and what can never be again. It's the book of a King that yearns for the beauty of the sea queen in all her splendor, the story of two brothers crossed at birth that yearn for their true homes on sea and on land. It's the story of a wild haired, barefooted fisherman's daughter that dares hex the spiteful sea, and yearns for the love of one that can never return it. Aren't these some of the best of all? These stories of want and hate and love, all jumbled up into one powerful package of emotion?
And then there are the characters! Periwinkle, our heroine, is a pinched and angry character at first, who scowls at the ocean but refuses to leave its shores despite her hate. She's bold and wild, who cares little about the conventions that bind others - she doesn't have secret dreams of catching the prince's eye like the other girls who work at the inn, and she doesn't pay attention to her clothes or her hair. She's smart but rough around the edges, passionate but obstinate - and for all that, a character you cannot help but love, flaws and all. There is the tortured Kir, who is...well, defined by his yearning for the ocean and his feeling that he does not belong on dry land. There's also the sea dragon himself, who is not at all what he seems, and a king that has made mistakes in his past but loves his children and lovers dearly. But for all that, my other favorite character in this beautiful little book is Lyo - the canny magician, with his smiling face and his penchant for twisting magic in delightful, unexpected ways.
All in all, I loved The Changeling Sea, and absolutely recommend it. I cannot wait to try more of Patricia McKillip's work - now, any suggestions on where to go next? (less)
Maeve, the fourth daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling of Sevenwaters, has lived apart from her immediate f...moreOriginally 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.(less)
Warning: this review contains inevitable spoilers for book 1 in the series. Trigger warning: rape.
Laini Taylor is doing really interesting things with her series. When it comes to romance in the Paranormal/Fantasy YA landscape, more often than not the reader is presented with truly problematic pairings where rape culture is normalised and where insta-love is presented as par for de course and in lieu of actual romantic development.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a book with a very strong focus in the romance between Karou/Madrigal and Akiva. A romance that was not only forged on the insta-love Furnace of Doom but also one depicted as having the no holds barred/soul mates kind of dynamic. That love was all the more impacting because it was also an impossible romance between enemies who dared to dream about ending the war between their people. At the end of that book, we know how well this turned out (not): Madrigal was killed but eventually resurrected as memory-less Karou. Akiva, thinking Madrigal was well and truly dead, went on a killing rampage. It ended with Karou recovering her memories and realising what Akiva had done and the two breaking up, therefore subverting the usual YA romantic trope and that was AWESOME.
At one point in Days of Blood and Starlight, Karou says that their story is like Romeo and Juliet’s but instead of waking up to find that Romeo had committed suicide, she wakes up to find out that he went on to decimate not only her entire immediate family, destroy her city and then proceed to commit genocide against her entire race. Lovely.
And that’s the actual starting point here: the insta-love that doesn’t work and is not rewarded for its wtfuckery. The story then in Days of Blood and Starlight deals with the after, with the guilt, with Karou finding out that HOLY CRAP, she dared to dream of love and that’s what happens when you hook up with a fanatical dude. Because there is no denying: Akiva has lost his shit so completely and how do you come back from that?
You can’t. Because genocide: not an acceptable response to your lover’s death.
Akiva knows that. Karou knows that. And so they are apart. And in the “apart”, they come to realise that their dream of peace needs to be bigger than their dream of togetherness.
But enough with the romance because unlike what I might have led you to believe with my rambling above, this book is not about love at all, it is actually about war. Karou is back with the few surviving Chimera, working alongside Thiago, the abhorrent man who killed her, in order to create an army of monsters to avenge their people.
In the meantime, there is a lot of emotional angst here. Karou is drowning in guilt for daring to fall in love with the enemy and mistakenly equates her dream of peace and love with the ensuing mass-murders on both sides. Part of her journey is realising that the love and the dream are not the problem. Revenge is. But before she gets to this realisation, the Karou of the first book is replaced with a meek, emo-version of herself, someone who makes terrible, stupid mistakes in the name of making amends (at one point I actually expected Akiva and Karou to burst into singing “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I am living”).
And it’s like, being complicit with genocide: not an acceptable response to your guilt.
Sorry, going back to the romance briefly: I do wonder what is going to happen. Because surely there is no way to mend this. NO WAY. There can’t be. Especially considering that yes, Akiva feels immense guilt, but his guilt comes only once he knows Karou is alive. If she was still dead, I got the feeling he would not feel this way. And I have a sneaky suspicion that because both of them have been involved with mass killings to some extent or another, in some creepy way all could be forgiven in the end because both did unspeakable things? Like in a really wonky, problematic mathematical equation in which each other’s actions are annulled like they never happened or something because… True Love. Surely, this is not where this story is going, is it?
And I can’t begin to express how fucked up this is, and how terrible the consequences are. And it becomes really clear, really soon, how their world is the shittiest place EVER. Both Angels and Chimera are immersed in this bloody war and holy crap, this book is dark, violent and emotionally draining and at points I just wanted to stop reading and get out just so I could breathe. In fact, reading some pages felt like being punched.
Laini Taylor is a brilliant writer and there is no denying that the harrowing version of Karou’s story is as engaging and beautifully written as its lighter companion (book one).
Those things said, I can’t help but to think that structurally speaking this book is a bit of a mess. There is a lot of head-hopping with random characters providing the point of view for a couple of pages then disappearing altogether from the narrative.
There is also a point toward the ending of the book where the narrative – which thus far had been linear – becomes choppy as it goes back to hours or days before a certain point in the present time just so there could be an extremely contrived “gotcha” moment.
Zuzana and her boyfriend Mik, as awesome as they are – and I mean it, I just love their love story as well as the loyalty and friendship between Karou and Zuzana – had no place in this story. Although I get the intention of adding a lighter tone to an otherwise grim story as well as giving Karou some footing in the human world, their presence in the proceedings felt forced and their comic lightness was misplaced in the midst of such portentous happenings.
Finally, part of me wonders if some of this violence isn’t a bit gratuitous, just to make a point. And then you have an extremely violent and completely unnecessary attempted rape scene. As though there wasn’t enough evidence of the violent and abhorrent nature of the attacker already so let’s add humiliating sexual violence toward its main female character as well.
Ultimately, Days of Blood and Starlight is an emotionally impacting book with a solid story and good overall plot developments. But unfortunately, it is nowhere near as awesome as its predecessor.
But, as I said before: Laini Taylor is doing really interesting things with her series. I just don’t know how I feel about them. I do remain curious to see where it goes though. (less)
I first heard about Dragon’s Bait through this piece on Entertainment Weekly about unmissable teen reads. And because...moreOh book, why you make me so torn?
I first heard about Dragon’s Bait through this piece on Entertainment Weekly about unmissable teen reads. And because it was an older title and because the Publishers Weekly review (which I sought after I read the EW article) said it is a “thoughtful mainstream fantasy with a gently feminist slant”, I decided I needed to read it soon.
Basically, the story follows a young girl, fifteen-year-old Alys, as she is accused of being a witch by her neighbours and summarily convicted in an unfair trial by the visiting Inquisitor. She loses everything and worst of all, Alys’ sick father dies in front of her eyes as she is dragged away to be sacrificed to the local dragon.
Alys thinks she is all but dead when, to her surprise, the dragon – who shape-shifts into a hot young man (obviously) called Selendrile– does not kill her. Instead, he listens to her story and offers to help her to avenge herself.
And you know, I can totally see where both EW and PW are coming from but at the same time…no, not really?
On the one hand we have a quick story with a fairytale vibe. Plus, Alys is a great heroine. Her voice is engaging, ironic and questioning. Her father has been teaching her to work on his workshop against the mores of their time where women don’t actually work at all and she loves the feeling of being useful.
Then when she is taken to be sacrificed to the dragon, she wonders why is it that only maidens are always the ones to be sacrificed? And the dragon-boy brings to her attention that dragons don’t actually make those demands at all as they couldn’t care less who they eat. Those choices are made by the men who rule the towns and who perceive maidens (young unmarried girls with no profession) as worthless. This could actually be taken as really cool meta-textual observation about the way we have chosen to write these stories about dragons and maidens over time.
On the other hand, there is very little character development when it comes to the secondary characters, very little thought about character-motivation and a confusing world-building that is both historical and fantastical but doesn’t really care about pesky historical details or in presenting a carefully constructed fantasy world.
Not to mention that there is a fairly heavy-handed, shallow moral lesson about revenge and how bad it is. And if yes, Alys’ arc is interesting in the way that allows Alys to take control of her own acts by becoming less and less reliant on the dragon’s help and coming up with her own plans, it is also incredibly frustrating how it plays out. Because in the end, Alys is still rescued by dragon-boy after deciding that her feelings of revenge are so bad she decides that the right course of action is to take the blame for EVERYTHING bad that has EVER happened in the village and I am like: WHY. It is such an out-of-character thing to do, all the more so because after she is rescued, those guilty feelings are never addressed again?
And then we have the romance between Alys and Selendrile. And at first it is great to see addressed the inevitable allure of the not-so-human, dark, older hot guy at the same time that showed Alys mistrusting him and fearing him for the monster that he is. And for the greatest part of the novel – till the very end – Alys is very unsure about his true feelings and fears he will EAT/KILL HER eventually. But then they end up together anyway in the most abrupt ending of ALL TIMES in which Alys ends up FOLLOWING him because she has NO OTHER CHOICE, even though he possibly EATS PEOPLE and doesn’t really show his emotions toward her except when it comes to mocking her humanity. He is very good at THAT.
And I am like: WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
And in a way, this is a really interesting choice and it points out to a darkness and to the fact that Alys wants to be with this creature but because it is so abrupt, this choice goes unquestioned and unchallenged for its clearly problematic aspects.
Because this was published 20 years ago, maybe it is worth reading Dragon’s Bait as a historical piece of YA fiction to see how far YA has come in terms of writing and character development but also how little it has changed in terms of its most obvious problematic romantic tropes?
Thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and divided in...moreOriginally 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(less)
Lucinda Chapdelaine was born into a life of love, happiness, and privilege. As a young girl, she had a loving...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Lucinda Chapdelaine was born into a life of love, happiness, and privilege. As a young girl, she had a loving father, a doting mother - this, plus the family's ties to riches and royalty, made it seem as though Lucinda's would be a truly charmed life. All of that changes overnight, however, when Lucinda's parents go to the Royal Ball and are tragically killed in an accident, leaving their only child an orphan. Penniless and alone, Lucinda is taken in by her mild-mannered Uncle (by marriage, not blood) and his new, vindictive bride. Set to work as a servant in her Uncle's gold and jewelry store under her cruel Aunt's watchful eye, Lucinda slaves away night and day cleaning in return for a small, drafty room, meager food, and a quiet, miserable existence.
At the age of fifteen, however, Lucinda's fate changes once again. A beautiful woman enters her Uncle's shop with the largest, most unique, precious jewel Lucinda or her Aunt have ever seen, and asks for a setting to be fashioned in exchange for a handsome sum - and things look as though they are turning around for the downtrodden jeweler. No sooner than the enchanting woman has left, however, does the town priest inform Lucinda's Aunt and Uncle that their mysterious customer is none other than the Amaranth Witch - a fearful sorceress that consorts with the devil, and a woman with which no respectable establishment will have any business dealings. Incensed and ever-concerned with public perception, Lucinda's Aunt decides that they will not help mend the fixture for the witch, even though the shop desperately needs the money, and orders Lucinda to return the jewel to the witch immediately...
But Lucinda has other plans. When she decides to hold onto the jewel with the hope that she will convince her Uncle to fix the setting and earn a large commission, her plans go dangerously awry - and Lucinda finds herself caught in a tangled web of lies and intrigue, involved with a common street thief, a crown prince, and a witch.
Part Cinderella story, and reminiscent of the feel and style of Neil Gaiman's Stardust and Diana Wynne Jones's Howl's Moving Castle, The Amaranth Enchantment is a delightful fairy tale-ish yarn with a dash of science fiction and a generous dose of romance to boot. While there isn't any doubt in my mind that Secondhand Charm is the superior book of Julie Berry's YA fantasy offerings, there's something incredibly endearing about Lucinda and her struggles in this book, just as there's something winsome with the other characters, setting, and lilting style to Ms. Berry's prose.
The clear standout for the novel is Lucinda, whose characterization elevates The Amaranth Enchantment from somewhat mediocre to a more memorable YA fairy tale offering. Lucinda is a heroine that is funny and heartfelt, and manages to be spunky without being abrasive. I love that on the one hand, she doesn't take anyone's crap, especially ragamuffin thief Peter - thusly avoiding a potentially eye-bleeding love triangle. For example, at their first meeting, Peter climbs into Lucinda's cold attic room to take refuge from a fellow thief, hot in pursuit. Peter, cheeky thief that he is, smooth talks his way into staying the night to stay alive, and when Lucinda's back is turned, he crawls into her bed. Instead of falling for that crap, Lucinda is enraged (rightfully!) and tells the strange, smelly boy to get the hell out of her bed.[1. If this was a more contemporary YA romantic fantasy, how much do you want to bet that she would have acquiesced because of Peter's rougish charm? Ugh. Gag.] I love that at the same time that Lucinda does not put up with any nonsense, she also is very much a fifteen year old girl and has a sweet - if somewhat predictable - romance with the prince of the realm. Above all, I love that Lucinda has some agency and gumption. She makes the decision to keep the rare Witch's jewel to help the Uncle and Aunt that have treated her with nothing but bitterness, that she decides to seek out the so-called witch, even though everyone else fears her.
Also, I love Lucinda's goat. Named Dog. (That's right, DOG.)
In contrast, however, the other characters are slightly more...stock. Lucinda's Prince Gregor feels a bit hollow and insincere (really, he's engaged to a gorgeous crown princess, but he decides to dance the night away with a brash, unaccompanied young woman at a festival with the entire kingdom watching on?). Peter, the thief, is far more fun, and I'm glad he is portrayed as a comically condescending, untrustworthy, yet somehow still charming rogue. Beryl, the titular Amaranth Witch, is a fascinating character in theory - an estranged woman in a strange kingdom far far away from home, a Yvaine-like character if there ever was one - but, like Gregor, hollow in execution. Perhaps this is because The Amaranth Enchantment is so abrupt in its telling, though.
From a worldbuilding and plotting perspective, Lucinda's world is at first glance a familiar Western European model fairytale kingdom, with a king and a queen and princes and princesses that marry for power and position. The story proper is also familiar as a very loose Cinderella retelling, and proceeds down a fairly predictable path. What sets this particular retelling apart is The Amaranth Enchantment's interesting, decidedly sci-fi type of twist (regarding one character's origin and the "magic" of the realm). That was completely unexpected, and pretty cool.
All in all, The Amaranth Enchantment is a sweet, easy read of a novel. It's not as polished or memorable a book as Secondhand Charm, but it's still a good way to scratch a YA fantasy/fairytale-ish itch. Recommended.(less)
For all seventeen years of her young life, Tess has been certain of just a few things: that her father is a b...moreOriginally 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. (less)
Ismae is a young girl who is able to escape the brutality and abuse of her childhood home and...moreReview originally posted on The Book Smugglers
Ismae is a young girl who is able to escape the brutality and abuse of her childhood home and of her new husband by joining a convent where the God of Death is still worshipped and becoming a handmaiden to Death. Blessed with gifts by the God, she trains to become one of his assassins and her newest assignment is at the centre of a palatial intrigue to which she is woefully underprepared.
Grave Mercy is a book with not only a kick-ass premise (NINJA NUNS!) but also a fascinating setting: the pivotal moment in Brittany’s history when Anne of Brittany has become its ruler and must defend it against France oppression. Unfortunately, this book and I didn’t see eye to eye and I ended up putting it aside at around page 350 (of 549). It is a sad day when a book featuring Ninja Nuns doesn’t work for me, but alas.
My problems with Grave Mercy were twofold: first of all there was the writing and then there the small little things that annoyed me. With regards to the writing: I thought there was a lot more telling than showing and an extreme reliance on writing shortcuts.
We are told more than we actually see a lot of what happens in the story not only in terms of plot but also of character development. The most glaring of them are during Ismae stay at the convent where she is supposed to have become this kick-ass assassin. The thing is, we are just told that she has become one – the book lists her achievements rather than showing them and then we must accept it as fact. Similarly all the nuns at the convent are described simply by what they do rather than by who they are. One can argue that the story is not REALLY about Ninja Nuns (what a shame) and more about the political intrigue and Ismae’s internal conflict. And truth be told I completely appreciate the immense potential for conflict between someone who is trained to act on things by simply killing them versus having to act via diplomacy but unfortunately I don’t think that this is sufficiently well developed. In fact, I found myself becoming increasingly bored with this very storyline – it is just so…bland.
But then there are the writing shortcuts too. This is one of my biggest pet peeves: in which we are simply told what is happening to a character with familiar clichéd turns of phrase that are used in order to hastily convey emotions. Take these few examples from Grave Mercy:
"The thrill of success is still humming through my veins
humiliation courses through my veins
certainty flows in my veins
shock simmering in my veins
my blood is singing in my veins
relief sings so sharply in my veins"
Holy Mortain, her veins must be extremely congested with so many things running/humming/singing/simmering/ etc through them. I could continue but you get my drift.
And then there were those things that made me stop and question everything I was reading. It annoyed me that there is a complete lack of questioning on her part about being a killer – even though she has been brought up within a religious environment and joins a convent, it doesn’t seem to occur to her that killing might be a little bit against the usual precepts of her church? I get that this is supposed to be explained by the fact that the God they worship (now turned a saint) is a God of Old and they are following the “old ways” rather than the new church but still, it just doesn’t ring true. Similarly, the book starts with Ismae getting married to an abusive husband. Although they never get around to actually consummating the marriage and she flees soon after it, she had been married at a church by a priest who actually follows her own faith and yet there is nary a thought about these vows and she doesn’t think about that marriage anymore.
Then, there is the fact that when she is about to leave the convent she is given a special knife which can kill a person if only so much it touches skin. So tell me again what is the point of all the kick ass training these women went through if all they need is a Special Magical Knife that kills effortlessly?
Finally, my last nit-picky comment. Something that made me think: I have seen this book lauded as a feminist read because of the powerful female characters and the ninja nuns. But is this really a true feminist read just because of that? I mean, ALL OF THEIR ENEMIES are men. Whenever they are talking about their skills at the convent or speak about their enemies, these are all men. So, in truth, even though these characters are all ninja female assassins, their entire world STILL evolve around MEN. Even their god is a male god. Just some food for thought.
I do appreciate the intentions and think they are laudable especially when it comes to giving power to these powerless girls after they have suffered abuse. I just wish this thread had been better developed beyond “let’s give them weapons and make them kill men”. In fairness, I stopped reading before the ending, so this might have been addressed after all. I just couldn’t care enough to carry on and find out for myself.
Grave Mercy really didn’t float my boat. A shame.
I’m of two minds when it comes to Grave Mercy. On the one hand, there are clearly some significant drawbacks to the writing and pacing of the novel, and I agree with some of Ana’s criticisms wholeheartedly. On the other, I personally LOVE this type of fantasy/spy/assassin/political intrigue with a dash of romance type of story. And despite the book’s missteps (particularly with regard to writing style), I found myself really enjoying – heck, loving! – the book, especially once it hits its stride after the first few chapters.
So, first the bad. As Ana details in her take on the book, the writing for Grave Mercy leaves much to be desired. Personally, I am not a fan of the first person present tense as a narrative choice – especially not in a historical fantasy novel – as it tends to lend a strange robotic quality to the protagonist. Such is the case with Ismae in her narrative. Compounding the problem is the very tell-y nature of the writing. Not only are Ismae’s veins chock full of all sorts of craziness, but she also oscillates between incredibly HOT or freezing COLD throughout the novel. Example:
"A fierce heat rises inside of me and Heat rushes into my cheeks
He pulls me closer, so that I feel the heat rising off his body, warm and smelling faintly of some spice. (THEA’S NOTE: I really, really hate this sentence. The only worse offender: “He smelled warm and musky and undeniably MALE.” Gag.)
His grip is firm,and it is as if the heat from his hand burns through all the layers between us"
And so on and so forth. This is annoying. ALSO annoying is the fact that Ismae’s emotions are plainly TOLD instead of experienced. Not to mention the entire glossing over of Ismae’s training to become a killer assassin badass ninja nun! In the span of 3 pages, Ismae learns ALL THE THINGS and is a badass ready to go on her first assignment. I abhor shortcuts. I want to read about her missteps and training, I want to experience her triumphs and failures! Unfortunately, we are deprived of this early in the novel. Add this to the other issues that are prevalent early in the book – Ana’s notes about the Old Ways/Gods, the dubious message that ALL MEN MUST DIE, the snicker-inducing appearance of a Magic!Knife! – and I can easily understand why some are inspired to put the book down and write it off as a DNF.
All these things said, the book takes off once Ismae is assigned to become a spy in the Britton court, working with (and against, in a nice double twist) the mysterious Gavriel Duval – under the guise of being his “cousin” (which everyone in the palace immediately takes to mean his mistress). HERE is where Ismae comes into her own, where she begins to question the teachings of her God, of her devout sisterhood, and of the “justice” of unyielding death. Here she learns that not all men are evil, and that some – even those marked by her God Mortain – deserve a chance at redemption. Here is where we learn that while Ismae has skill as an assassin, she is not infallible, and lacks grace, finesse and diplomacy. By these latter two thirds of the novel, all the complexity that is missing from the earlier chapters comes into play full force. And I LOVED IT ALL.
I love the idea of this sisterhood of assassins and the fantastic elements with those “marked” to die apparent to the handmaidens of Mortain.
I love the drama that is tearing apart the court, and the devotion that Duval and Ismae have to their young, strong Duchess – the same proud ruler that so many are trying to overthrow, enslave through marriage, or kill.
And yes, I love the love story between Ismae and Duval, as predictable as it might seem, because there is something about these two characters that feels utterly sincere.
So there you have it. A Smugglerific disagreement. I truly enjoyed the book, absolutely recommend it, and cannot wait for more. Bring it on, Dark Triumph.(less)
It has been eight years since the cruel reign of King Leck has ended, but the kingdom of Monsea is far from h...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
It has been eight years since the cruel reign of King Leck has ended, but the kingdom of Monsea is far from healed. Queen Bitterblue, now 18, has been ruling with the guidance of her trusted advisors and aid from her many friends - especially the Graced Survivor, Katsa, and the blind, mind-reading Po - and things in Monsea have progressed. Or so Bitterblue thinks.
While the immediate terror of Leck's madness has gone, his legacy of pain and cruelty remains, touching and corrupting the lives of many in the realm, from castle, to city, to its far reaches. Bitterblue, frustrated with the paperwork foisted upon her desk, pile after endless pile, decides to take matters into her own hands and takes to sneaking out of the castle by night. On the streets of Monsea, she discovers that things are not quite as rosy as her advisors would have her think - and that someone is killing those that would seek the truth of Leck's reign and the inner workings of the palace. With the help of two new friends met outside the palace walls - both of whom know nothing of Bitterblue's true identity - and her older friends Katsa and Po, Bitterblue strives to uncover the truths behind the mysteries that no one wants to talk about or remember.
And along the way, Bitterblue learns what it means to be a true Monsean, a friend, and a Queen.
The long awaited sequel to Graceling and companion novel to Fire, Bitterblue is a largely unexpected and hard-to-define novel. Weighing in at approximately 550 pages long, it certainly has more heft than its predecessors - but for all that extra length, it's actually a far more subdued book than either Graceling or Fire. In truth, Bitterblue is an introverted novel about a young Queen struggling to understand the past and separate the truth from the lies that surround her - lies all born of the best intentions. The thing that is so striking about this eponymous protagonist is how truly isolated Bitterblue is - she has friends she loves and trusts, but they are always out and doing the business that keeps Monsea and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms safe. She's also isolated from understanding just how her kingdom works, what happens in its streets, and how her people truly feel about her, the monarchy, and the future. Even at one point, it becomes clear that Bitterblue knows very little of her own home - the palace is a mystery to her, with her father's rooms locked to the world and bottled up like a dark secret never to be thought of again, the sprawling grounds, secret passageways, and cavernous mazes left dusty and forgotten.
But Bitterblue is above all curious, and this burning desire to understand and become the best leader for her people is what makes the character, and by extension the novel, memorable. Bitterblue's characterization as a young queen and young woman is wonderfully complex and genuine - though she's only 18, you can believe in her ability as a monarch because of her self doubts and her struggle to do the right thing, even when it breaks her heart to do so, for the good of her people and her kingdom.
That said, Bitterblue is also an incredibly conflicted character, starved for companionship and affection (and given her nightmare of a childhood with her abusive, twisted father, one can't help but feel for this young woman - the opening prologue chapter alone is enough to break your heart). There are passages where Bitterblue says and does certain things to keep people close to her - physically and emotionally - for as long as possible. For example, in one passage, Bitterblue tells a white lie about hitting her head so that Katsa will continue to hold her and stroke her hair - it's really heart-rendering stuff, these little memorable moments that show just how alone Bitterblue truly is.
These praises sung, there are many...strange, and slightly unsatisfying things about Bitterblue. First, there is the incredible protractedness of the story. As mentioned before, this is an introspective book that is more about personal growth and truth than it is about action or quests and adventure (compared to Katsa and Fire's stories). There is no need for the book to be nearly as long as it is - there is much back and forth about pointless minutia, with Bitterblue getting frustrated with receiving no answers to her questions, then turning back to paperwork and other mendacity that does nothing to really move the story along. The overall mystery is a small, quiet thing too, that is built nicely over the course of the book but again, need not have been as protracted as it was. As it stands, I can see how many might put down Bitterblue because nothing really happens for so much of the novel. Similarly, while I enjoyed the characters of Teddy and Saf, the romantic angle felt tangential and underdeveloped (not that it truly matters to the meat of the story - but I'd almost prefer that it not have been included at all). The side characters and new introductions are likable enough, but the characterizations felt somehow bereft of the same intensity and depth that we see with Katsa and Po and Giddon and Thiel, and any number of other, older faces.
There are glimpses of brilliance within Bitterblue's tale - I love the centrality of ciphers, the tragedy of books gone forever, burned and destroyed by Leck and his following. I love the different graces we are introduced to in this book (particularly a librarian named Death and his shocking ability to remember every single thing he has ever read). I also loved the way everything ties together in the end, as Katsa and Po's story, and even that of Fire, comes to a head and is resolved in bittersweet fashion. I love the morose beauty of this book that deals with the legacy of pain and grief that follows a truly terrifying tyrant, and while there were some undeniable stumbling points in the meandering body of the story, the ultimate message and experience is a positive one. Bitterblue might not have the brashness of Katsa's Graceling or the dangerous beauty of Fire, but it has an abundance of heart, and that is more than enough to recommend it. (less)
Monday's child is fair of face Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's ch...moreOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Monday's child is fair of face Tuesday's child is full of grace, Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go, Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for a living, But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
Sunday Woodcutter is doubly-blessed - not only was she born on the Sabbath Day (and *doomed* to be bonny and blithe and good and gay), but she's also a seventh-born daughter. While she might not be as beautiful as her eldest sister Monday, or as daring as her sister Thursday, Sunday is a beautiful, kindhearted girl with magic in her veins. Anything she writes on paper inexplicably comes to fruition, albeit not in the way she has intended. (For example, when she fervently wrote about her desire to stay home from an undesirable task, she was granted her wish - in the form of an illness that kept her home for a week)
One lazy afternoon, Sunday escapes from the monotony of her chores and sneaks out to her beloved woods where she meets an enchanted frog, named Grumble, who becomes her new best friend. With Grumble, Sunday can be herself. She can read her stories about her family, share her fears and hopes and dreams, and before she knows it, she has fallen in love with her man-trapped-in-a-frog and gives him a kiss.
The morning after being kissed, Grumble awakens in his true form - in truth, he is the heir to the realm, Prince Rumbolt - and while he has a hard time remembering the events leading up to his cursed transformation, he has no problem remembering his beloved Sunday with her sweet face and beautiful stories. He also remembers enough of his past life to know that he has fallen in love with the only girl in the kingdom that will despise him when she learns his true identity, for Sunday's eldest brother, Jack Woodcutter, was an idolized guard in the king's palace but fell from grace and was killed, all because of Rumboldt (or so everyone believes). In order to woo his love in his true form, Prince Rumboldt makes his way home and decides to throw a three-night ball inviting ALL the eligible ladies in the realm, hoping to catch Sunday's eye and earn her heart, again, as his true self.
Things are not so simple for a Prince and his unrequited love, however. As Rumbolt returns home, glimpses of his shadowed, forgotten past return to haunt him, and when the ball begins, his quest to win Sunday's heart leads to incredibly danger. Rumboldt's father - the eternally youthful King whose true name has been forgotten - has dark secrets, not only encompassing Rumboldt's mother and her mysterious death, but stretching back so many prior generations of beautiful young brides. With the help of his beloved sorceress, the amethyst-eyed enchantress named Sorrow, the King has somehow managed to stay young, vibrant, and in power for many years. At Rumboldt's ball, the King also sets his gaze on a new bride - Sunday's elder sister, Wednesday. As the danger facing the Woodcutter family reaches a feverish pitch, the truth of Rumboldt's enchantment and the familial ties of magic and betrayal between the Woodcutters and their fey roots all must come to light.
And, with such danger afoot, our starcrossed lovers Rumboldt and Sunday must also conquer the challenges stacked between them if they are ever to find their own happily ever after.
Enchanted is Alethea Kontis's first novel (but not her first book), and it is a delightful, airy fable, chock-full of fairy-tale twists and allusions. While the book is billed as a retelling of the Frog Prince, in truth, Enchanted is so much more than that - it borrows from so many beloved fairy tales, from Snow White, to Cinderella, to Jack and the Beanstalk, to Bluebeard. I absolutely adored this aspect of the novel and the clever integration of all of these different, darker and slightly twisted fairy tales into the overall arc of Enchanted. While the book's initial impetus is the bond between a girl and a frog, that story is such a small part of the overall tale, which in truth spans generations and deep family secrets, and I love that completely unexpected depth. There are divisions between sisters, broken hearted parents and the relationship between a mother and her daughters, the complications of magic and the ever-present fey...there is a LOT of fodder for future novels in this single, slim volume. (On that note, PLEASE PRETTY PLEASE say that this is the first novel in a sprawling series, Alethea Kontis! Ahem. I digress.)
So far as the actual characters are concerned, I fell in love with Grumble the frog and Rumboldt the young man from almost first glance. While spend time in both his and Sunday's minds, to me Rumboldt is the true hero of this book. His narrative is sweet and compelling, and I love his earnestness and (at times comic) devotion to Sunday. As Rumboldt struggles to woo the girl who he believes must hate him because of his role in her brother's death, he also struggles to recall the fleeting memories of the years and days leading up to his enchantment as a frog, and you can't help but root for this gangly, slightly awkward but incredibly lovable prince the whole way.
As for Sunday herself, however, my feelings are less warm and fuzzy. I have to admit, I didn't much care for our dear Sunday - she's fair, bonny and gay, and ultimately this means she's so saccharinely sweet that she's nowhere near as interesting as Rumboldt or her less-blessed other sisters! Sunday is a beautiful girl that gets to wear beautiful dresses, but she's lacking the fire of her Pirate Queen sister Thursday, or the grit of her hard-working sister Saturday. Also, this is also very much a pretty princess book - not that there's anything wrong with that! But it is a book about beautiful people dressing up in beautiful clothes and going to glamorous balls, and that sort of traditional, old school fairy tale. (This is fine, but in small doses - it's so much more fun when people aren't stunningly gorgeous and have to rely on other sorts of strengths and weaknesses to succeed.)
This said, I think there's so much potential for future adventures. Saturday, in particular, seems to have a tale to be told - but we shall see!
Recommended for a fun, sweetly romantic and delightfully charming fairy tale read. (less)