W-what did I just read? What is this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL THING?
Full disclosure: I have read Enchanted Ivy, Drink Slay Love, and Vessel before Conju...moreW-what did I just read? What is this INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL THING?
Full disclosure: I have read Enchanted Ivy, Drink Slay Love, and Vessel before Conjured. I was already fully aware that Durst's mind is an amazingly original place; each of her books just DELIGHTS in breaking my expectations and defying the cliches. But while I enjoyed each of the other books tremendously (and I really do mean that - dryads! Were-unicorns! PoCs being possessed by gods!) none of them hit me quite as hard as Conjured.
Which has gone straight to the top of my favorites pile.
If I can be a little bit blunt, Conjured feels as though Durst has finally gotten into her stride. While each of her other books were very good, this one is brilliant. The language, the imagery, the magic, the characters - I could not put it down and resented extremely anyone who tried to interrupt my reading! I was dying to find out why Eve kept losing her memories, and what the secret was behind her magic. Durst kept me glued to the page with her typical layering of stories (nothing is ever as simple as it seems, or as you expect - despite the truly wonderful magic, Durst has a talent for making her stories very real and realistic). It could easily be the first book in a series, if she so desired - but the epilogue wraps the story up beautifully, so that I will be quite content for it to remain stand-alone (and that's another thing: Conjured is a stand-alone! A beautiful stand-alone! A rare and precious jewel when you can't swing a cat these days without hitting two hundred never-ending series'!)
Just - absolutely gorgeous, beautiful, and I can't WAIT to get my hands on Durst's next book!!!(less)
Oh, wow. This is so gorgeous! I don't even know where to start!
Tides manages to be perfectly on the line between dreamy and beautifully realistic. It'...moreOh, wow. This is so gorgeous! I don't even know where to start!
Tides manages to be perfectly on the line between dreamy and beautifully realistic. It's more than the subject matter - the incredible selkies! - it's the way Cornwell uses language; poetic and ever so slightly magical. I would have devoured this book for the writing alone! But there was so much more to keep me occupied.
Like the characters. Oh good lord, the cast! I'm so glad Cornwell switched between the POVs of a good handful of the cast - I can think of a dozen books where the authors don't manage to pull it off, but here it works beautifully. I loved getting a closer look at each of the fabulous characters. Noah, the young man about to go off to college, staying with his grandmother for a summer internship; Lo, his (adopted Chinese) sister, struggling with her body; Mara, the strong, adventurous selkie girl; Ronan, another selkie who is eager to leave the pod to find the rest of his family; and Maebh, the Elder of the selkie pod, in love with Noah and Lo's grandmother.
(Why yes, there IS a positive lesbian relationship in this book! And it's lovely and sweet and REAL, and I heartily approve!)
For such a short book, the characters manage to develop quite a bit. By the end of the story Noah has been reminded of what really matters (not, to be fair, that he was some horrible career-obsessed-to-the-exclusion-of-all-else kind of person to start with), Lo has come into her strength (and a gorgeous strength it is), Mara has what she's always wanted, as does Ronan, and Maebh has put her fears away. I still think it's incredible that Cornwell manages to get as much plot and development into Tides as she does - without anything feeling rushed. It's wonderful!
Especially wonderful are the female characters. I have to say this: there aren't many strong girls in fantasy. (In YA anywhere, perhaps). I don't mean 'strong' in the sense of kicking ass (although Mara is very much able to beat Noah, and anybody else, into the ground if necessary!) but strong as in sure of themselves, and confident, and just - very real. Lo, for example. Lo struggles with bulimia, and her shame over her weight at the start of the book is something that I, and probably many teenagers (and even, sadly, adults) can identify with. But with the help of her family, and friends, and most of all HERSELF, she comes closer and closer to triumphing over her illness, and seems to have done so by the end of the book. Mara, as I already said, is strong in the traditional sense as well as a very feminine one: I loved that she wasn't afraid to dress up and be typically girly, while also being very able to handle physical confrontation and her sister's kidnapper. Gem (Noah and Lo's grandmother) and Maebh, too, are fully developed, with their own story within and before the book (I'd love to see a prequel all about them!)
Cornwell definitely has a gift for creating characters that jump right off the page.
I can't possibly encapsulate everything I loved about this book (BECAUSE I LOVED EVERYTHING!) but one more thing I have to say: I am a huge fan of worldbuilding. Nothing makes me swoon like all the tiny details that tell me an author has really thought about their secondary world, or their magical race, or whatever. YA is particularly bad at worldbuilding, as a genre, and I'm often disappointed. Not so here. Tides at no point overwhelms or infodumps the reader with information about the selkies; instead, here and there, we have a little gem of detail skilfully woven into the narrative, such as the bit about selkie naming traditions, and little snippets of selkie culture. This, more than anything else to me, says that Cornwell is someone to watch - rest assured, I'll be snapping up everything else she chooses to write!
Can't recc this enough. Gone straight to my favourites shelf!(less)
As a myth-geek, and a lover of fairytale-retellings, and also someone who CRAVES original, wonderful female characters, CAN I JUST SAY: thi...moreOh my gods.
As a myth-geek, and a lover of fairytale-retellings, and also someone who CRAVES original, wonderful female characters, CAN I JUST SAY: this was freaking perfect.
And I mean, it was perfect because of ALL THE GREEK MYTH, and the names and the world-building and the beautiful, beautiful writing, and the mixing up of Beauty and the Beast with Bluebeard and DID I MENTION THE GREEK MYTH and the delightfully wonderful demon prince who loves the evil girl, but mostly -
Mostly it's the evil girl.
Nyx - the evil girl in question, the main character who is not really evil but thinks she is - is amazing. She's officially one of my favorite characters and one of the best I've ever read. Promised to marry the Gentle Lord (DEMON PRINCE) from birth, she's also been raised to kill him - and has always been taught that she will probably die in the process. In a BEAUTIFULLY natural and realistic twist, this has made her very bitter and resentful towards her father (who struck the bargain with the demons that necessitated her marriage), and her twin sister (who has been pampered and cherished and is not the one who's going to die).
But what makes Nyx so special to me is that she is fully aware of the fact that she's bitter and cruel. And she hates herself for it. She believes that her reluctance to die for her country makes her an evil, disgusting creature, but rather than crumpling under shame or self-disgust, she digs in and does what she believes she has to: marries the demon, searches for a way to destroy him, and tries her damnedest to save her people in the process.
Not that she's a depressing character in the slightest. She doesn't wallow in anything: Nyx is full of fire. My favorite passage in the entire book has to be this exchange, when her demonic husband has just implied that he might have had 'relations' with other women in the past -
' "You touch another woman and I'll cut your hands off," I snapped.'
My second favorite part is the line right after, her husband's reaction -
'He looked delighted.'
Because Ignifex, the demon Nyx marries and the 'beast' in Hodge's story, is another fantastic character - unabashedly 'evil' (arguably, anyway - and he does argue it!), he's also sweet and weirdly innocent at times. But most of all, I love him for adoring Nyx's wicked, cruel side. If Nyx is unique in YA fiction for being so cruel and strong, then Ignifex is equally unique for reveling and glorying in that strength and cruelty. I absolutely approve!
I desperately hope Hodge writes more novels, because I'm dying to get my hands on more of this fabulous writer's work. BRING ON THE NEXT ONE!(less)
Where do I even begin with this book? Seriously. When I read and adored Larke's Watergivers trilogy, Havenstar was out of print, but n...moreOh, wow.
Where do I even begin with this book? Seriously. When I read and adored Larke's Watergivers trilogy, Havenstar was out of print, but numerous people told me that it was the best of all Larke's work. I found it hard to believe that anything could be better than the Watergivers books, but when it showed up as an ebook I snatched it up instantly.
And you know what? Every one of those people was right. I'm still amazed that it's possible, but this is even better.
Havenstar starts out with what seems like a typical premise; a young woman, Keris, is unsatisfied with her life, and makes her escape. We've all read variations of that before, right? Except that Keris' problems are not easily solved by her leaving home. Far from it. Because the source of her problems, the Rule, is enforced everywhere - forbidding women from dozens of careers, stifling creativity and banning change or original thought. Wherever she goes, she will have the Rule to deal with.
Again, this sounds vaguely familiar. The Rule is even interpreted and enforced by the Chantry, recognisable as a stand-in for the Judeo-Christian church. It all sounds like something I've read a hundred times.
But for once, the religious order is not blandly corrupt, imposing ridiculous rules for no apparent reason. Here, the Rule is of the utmost importance - because keeping Order helps prevent Chaos from eating away at the world, in a very un-metaphorical manner. In fact, Keris' world is divided into eight small pieces, separated by vast tracks of wilderness ruled over by Lord Carasma - the traditional Adversary god as you've never seen him before. And Carasma, bit by bit, is winning his war with the Maker - the safe havens, no matter how strictly they are Ordered, are growing smaller and smaller.
It might not be such a problem if the wild spaces in between were not so - well, wild. Order does not exist there. Mountains can disappear without warning. Rivers alter their course. Gravity abruptly stops working, holes open up in the ground, monsters abound, and things other than water can rain down on the land. Worst of all, it's criss-crossed with ley-lines - rivers of evil power that can kill, taint or twist the people who are forced to cross them.
In a world where the landscape changes daily, and no settlement is self-sufficient, maps are of the highest importance. And that is what Keris wants to do - make maps. The daughter of a famous map maker, forbidden to follow in his footsteps by the Rule, Keris escapes her horrible brother to try and find some freedom. Unfortunately, said brother follows her, and she has to join a pilgrimage to a far-away settlement to get away from him.
Her fellow pilgrims, and their guides, turn out to be somewhat more than expected.
Larke has created another amazing world here, one with believable attitudes, politics, religion and mythology. Her characters, as usual, leap off the page and breathe; I especially loved the frustration felt by many of the characters towards the stifling Rule. But the story is much more than that. Larke could have taken the easy route, condemning the Chantry and making Havenstar a battle between a strict organised religion and a more creative pagan one, but in fact it's nothing so simple. Both sides have their flaws, and both their good sides. The Chantry may be overbearing and hypocritical, but Larke makes it very clear that they genuinely believe what they preach. It's also clear that the Chantry are not wholly wrong, or even mostly wrong; one conversation between Keris and Meldor, towards the end of the book when Keris finally reaches the eponymous Havenstar, sticks out especially - there is a discussion of mining and such that won't make sense out of context, but beautifully encapsulates the way in which the Chantry are right as well as wrong. That said, it is very difficult to side with them over Keris and her friends.
But it is definitely the characters who stand out the most. Keris is a wonderful heroine, an interesting mix of intelligent, naive and stubborn; she knows what she wants but struggles to accept that she is allowed to have it, and despite her dislike of the Rule finds it hard to let go of the Chantry's teachings. The rest of the cast is beautifully human as well; no one is perfect, people lose their temper and make mistakes, and named characters get hurt and die. Meldor in particular is a wonderful change from the usual idealistic resistance leaders - but I can't say more than that without spoiling the plot.
And even more than that are the themes Larke weaves so deftly into her book. Good and evil often crop up in fantasy, but I've never seen them dealt with quite this way before; despite the existence of an Adversary-type god and his evil minions, the actual meaning of evil is questioned over and over. Chaos and order are re-examined again and again throughout the story, as are issues of religion, loyalty to government, immortality, sexuality... Larke even, unusually for this type of epic High Fantasy, includes a handful of LGBT characters, which gets her mega points from me. (Don't be put off by the fact that the first one we meet is a bad guy. That, too, is something Larke examines and plays with, and there are a pair of awesome lesbians who are very much on the Light side).
All in all, this has gone straight onto my favourites shelf, and is going to get recced to everyone I know.(less)
Read like a cross between Catherynne Valente and Gabriel García Márquez. I couldn't put it down: a fantasy about the power and wonder of books. Defini...moreRead like a cross between Catherynne Valente and Gabriel García Márquez. I couldn't put it down: a fantasy about the power and wonder of books. Definite must read for any bibliophile!(less)
Brian McClellan's Promise of Blood. Hmm. I read the first chapter and wasn't very impressed; it stayed on my reading list for a few weeks before I for...moreBrian McClellan's Promise of Blood. Hmm. I read the first chapter and wasn't very impressed; it stayed on my reading list for a few weeks before I forced myself through chapter two on a whim. And, dear gods, I am SO FREAKING GLAD that I did! I love it! :D Everywhere I look, I see people comparing it to crap like Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks - none of whom are my cup of tea AT ALL (although I did make a dubious exception for Weeks' Lightbringer trilogy. I'm still not sure whether I like it or not, beyond the original magical system which I ADORE. But then, originality is so rare that I nearly always jump on it. The books themselves...unsure). Thankfully, the people making those comparisons are freaking idiots. Maybe in general theme Promise is similar to some of those other authors' works, but in writing style McClellan blows them all out of the water. The writing is smooth, runs along like flowing water, and the weaving of detail into the narrative is so exquisite I just want to cry. McClellan doesn't drown you in description, and he isn't stupidly sparse; he gets it just right, every single time. (Unlike Abercrombie, who's rough and gritty just like his stories; Sanderson, who writes like a child, and Weeks, who...well, Weeks has definitely gotten better since his Warded Man days, but still. McClellan is BETTER).
Story wise: Tamas, leader of the prestigious powder mage legion (cabal? Group? I forget all the military terms), has staged a coup, overcoming and executing the corrupt, idiot king. It's the first time in all history any monarch's reign has been forcibly ended, so it's a big deal. Tamas and a handful of other, all incredibly well-rounded, characters then have to deal with royalists, various plots, insane chefs who might just be divinities in not-so-disguise, and potential war.
Oh, and a powder mage? Is a kind of sorcerer (although don't call them that!) who works with guns and gun-powder. As if you needed another reason to pick this up.
I practically inhaled this one. It's going straight on my favourites and I'm delighted to see that the sequel is available for pre-order already. That's my next stop!(less)
I've been waiting for this collection since the authors posted the themes they had planned for each month of Project Unicorn (which, btw, entails writ...moreI've been waiting for this collection since the authors posted the themes they had planned for each month of Project Unicorn (which, btw, entails writing YA lesbian short stories and publishing them for free online, at Muse Rising, and is seriously awesome). March's theme was the eponymous Myth, Magic, and Glitter, and as a lifetime lover of myths and legends - and all things glittery! - I was incredibly excited to finally get my hands on this one.
So far every Project Unicorn collection has been a joy to read, but I have to confess that this one is my favourite (so far!) - and not just because of the subject matter. Although that, too, is spectacular; transgender mermaids find themselves alongside what must be the most gorgeous (and clever!) Cinderella retelling I've ever read; Aphrodite makes an appearance with the Greek poet Sappho (as a lit nerd, I may have cheered at that point), and so does Sedna, an Inuit sea goddess I haven't heard mentioned in years. Kudos to Diemer and Diemer for knowing and writing about her; points for originality! Not that that's a surprise - if there's one thing these two always manage to be, it's breathtakingly unique in their approach, style, and sometimes reinterpretation of the stories they write.
In fact, Diemer and Diemer's beautiful writing has once again provided me with dozens of quotes to write up and put on my walls - stories are phoenixes with words for feathers is something that I might just have to get tattooed - and as usual, neither author is afraid to tackle sensitive issues with heartfelt care and compassion. As I mentioned already, Myth, Magic and Glitter includes the first Project Unicorn story with a transgender character, which manages to avoid becoming an 'issue' story (by virtue of MERMAIDS! :D) without demeaning or dismissing the difficulties inherent to gender dysphoria. Another story deals with the aftermath teenage suicide.
Like all the rest of Project Unicorn, I can't recc this one enough; it's exquisite, and I can't wait to go and reread it - or wait for April's collection!(less)
This...this...good gods, how can I possibly put this book's awesomeness into words? It is going to the very top of my favourites pile forever.
Let's s...moreThis...this...good gods, how can I possibly put this book's awesomeness into words? It is going to the very top of my favourites pile forever.
Let's start simple: the plot. Which is not really simple at all. There are two plotlines within this book - one, told by Mara the Huntress, an immortal slayer of evil gods, is quite simply Mara telling her own story to a magician she happens to have met. As an immortal slayer of evil gods, that story is a long, complex, incredible one - even if it often involves horrible horrors and unspeakable cruelty, on the parts of the evil monsters she is sworn to kill. In the course of her life she has met many creatures and become involved with many stories - if you're a student of mythology like myself, and even if you aren't, you'll probably recognise many of the stories she becomes involved with. Noah and his Ark, Atlantis, the Amazon warrior women - all of them and more are here, in a recognisable form but still utterly different from the myths and legends we know today. If you ask me, this is one of Kaveney's special bits of genius, because it makes the stories far more real: you can see how the 'grain of truth' evolved into the myth we know, and I loved it to pieces every time I caught a reference.
The second plotline is that of Emma, a young woman living in 90s London who becomes involved with the supernatural world when a monster eats her best friend. This is the only time the two plotlines really cross, because Mara gets involved for a minute or two - but then she's off again, leaving Emma, and her friend Caroline (now a ghost, and Emma's lover) to start policing the supernatural world at the behest of Caroline's nameless 'employer'.
Both Mara and Emma end up saving the world a lot.
But to be honest, that really doesn't give you any idea of Rituals' complete and utter genius. Sure, there's the retelling of all the myths (which I adored SO MUCH). There's the host of LGBTQ characters, including chaos magicians in drag and a vampire princess who is simply adorable with her 'baby fangs'. And there's Emma's snarky sarcasm, as she ruthlessly says what we've all been thinking for years and mocks the elves and vampires she comes across mercilessly. (Don't worry though. This is NOT a book about elves and vampires, or a book for their fans. Kaveney parodies them deliberately, and it's utterly hilarious and wonderful). But there's also Kaveney's incredible use of language, description, and sheer original BRILLIANCE that has me down on my knees BEGGING for the sequel.
Please please PLEASE, Kaveney - don't keep me waiting too long for book 2!(less)
Just...beautiful. It ripped my heart out and made me cry, but stitched me back together again with a flawless ending. Cassandra Clare, you're a goddes...moreJust...beautiful. It ripped my heart out and made me cry, but stitched me back together again with a flawless ending. Cassandra Clare, you're a goddess.(less)
The Dark Woods is the first collection of stories from Project Unicorn - a series of YA short stories featuring lesbian protagonists, written by Sarah...moreThe Dark Woods is the first collection of stories from Project Unicorn - a series of YA short stories featuring lesbian protagonists, written by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer.
DO YOU NEED TO HEAR ANYTHING ELSE?
You do? Why?
Oh, all right then.
All but two of the short stories in this collection are available for free on MuseRising - the Diemers' blog. Straight away they make it clear that Project Unicorn is more about providing stories for LGBT teens than it is about making money, which is precisely why I went and bought all three of the currently available collections. (The other reason being, IT'S SARAH AND JENNIFER DIEMER. I snatch up everything they write!) This is a project that means something and deserves support.
That's all secondary, though, to the fact that these are beautiful stories on their own merit - and this is coming from someone who generally hates short stories. If I love a story, I want it as a big, sprawling novel, so I can spend as much time with it as possible. And it's true that I would have loved for a few of the stories in Dark Woods to have been extended - but not a one of them needed it. Each is just the right length, a snippet of a bigger picture or a perfectly contained narrative on its own.
The stories themselves cover most of the major 'genre' genres - fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc - and each one is fantastic. I love the writing more than the actual stories; both authors have a near magical way with words, as illustrated by turns of phrase like 'every day the words became less true, like a cake mixed with salt instead of sugar'. But the stories are gorgeous too! 'Mirrors', my favourite, involves a magical compact mirror and a magical girl on the other side of the glass. 'Witch Girls', my second favourite, is a beautiful little tale about embracing your power as a girl/woman rather than locking it all up.
There are mermaids, demons, and assorted were-creatures in this collection, and a variety of girls - some who know they're brave, some who discover it over the course of their story. Some who know they love girls, some who discover it; some are accepted for it, and some struggle with homophobia. But these are not, at all, 'gay stories', those dreaded things that ignore the fact that characters are PEOPLE, and not just gay stereotypes. None of the girls in Dark Woods are stereotypes, and none of them are defined only by who they love.
So, no, these aren't 'gay stories'. They're just stories, beautiful, wonderful stories, which just happen to feature girls who like girls. It's no big deal. I, myself, am far more interested in whether a girl turns into a cat, or lives on a spaceship, than who she likes to kiss!
This is an absolute must-read for all Diemer fans. And if you're not one yet, than this collection will definitely convince you to become one!(less)