Brief disclaimer: I do know White from Tumblr, and I'd call us friends - but that's no influence on my reaction to this book. In fact, I initially fouBrief disclaimer: I do know White from Tumblr, and I'd call us friends - but that's no influence on my reaction to this book. In fact, I initially found them via another novel-length writing project, so we wouldn't be friends at all if they couldn't write like hell.
This doesn't read like a self-published novel, or a debut novel, and especially not a self-published debut novel. That may be because White has already done a massive amount of writing - starting with 45000 words of Paris Burning and building into an entire fictional universe with a significant following. That they've got a lot under their belt is beyond a doubt.
But honestly? Having read Paris Burning, having read everything in the Cityverse, I was still not prepared for Hearth.
This is a book with depth to it, layers upon layers of worldbuilding and machinations and tiny, intriguing hints. The world(s) within it at first seem comprehensible - there's the real world and the dream world of Beltane - but nothing quite fits perfectly within that binary. The real world is strained by hints of a recent war - borders are closed, cities possibly destroyed, nationalist lines drawn. Beltane, too, is more than simply a quest location or a metaphor for Ivy's grief: it exists in its own ancient cycle, and there are clearly schemes afoot that few people understand. Layers upon layers: laid down like sediment, they give the story a sense of scope and age that make it powerfully compelling.
While I'm on the subject of settings, the atmosphere was simply unbelievable. The town of Hearth has about it an air of creeping horror and unreality. It's amazing how effective this indirect approach to building fear becomes, particularly as more information is revealed and less is understood. It didn't take me long to want all of the characters out, for their own safety, but at the same time I longed for more information...
It's deeply disconcerting to have a story like this get under your skin: it's literally a tale about losing oneself in a fantastical realm, and I found my mind drifting back to it much like Ivy's drifts back to Beltane. I'm reasonably sure there were no supernatural factors involved on my end, but in that case it's a pure testament to the strength of the narrative and the writing.
Ivy Fairholm, the lead character, is a knotted ball of memory and insecurity and grief. She begins struggling to deal with her mother's death and its mundane aftermath, but as Beltane becomes a part of her life she seems to lose her grasp on her identity, slipping further and further away from her ordinary life. As the Dreamer, she's at times naive and unsure but often courageous: she carries with her a certain amount of genre savvy which later turns into a sense of duty as she becomes her role in Beltane to a greater degree. She's also confused, out of her depth, and at times impatient and impetuous, but even at her most flawed she remains compelling both as a subject and as a heroine.
Her supporting cast are fabulously diverse, both within Beltane and without. Like Ivy, many of them are mirrored across the paired settings, giving the reader a view not just into how they behave but into how Ivy perceives them. Many of them have barely begun to be explored, and after the explosive climax of this book, a lot of their positions have changed - I can't wait to see what more we learn about them.
One of the aspects of Beltane's setting which was fabulously well-employed was the idea of titles: every resident has no name, simply that of the role they occupy. As we see Ivy's identity and sense of her 'real' self swallowed more and more by her role as the Dreamer, the implications become clearer - that Beltane limits the self for everyone in it, and in order to exercise true freedom of will and make independent choices one must actively re-define that identity.
I'm still not quite sure what to make of the ending. It was certainly explosive, with a series of reveals and semi-reveals that changed my perception of the narrative. It also ended on a cliffhanger, so I finished the book with far more questions than I had anticipated. I can't quite say that I wished I'd waited until the sequel was finished to read this, though, because it really was a fantastic experience.
The one critique I have to offer is this: the book could have used another close-read copy-editing pass, because it had quite a few run-on sentences that I found distracting. However, in the grand scheme of things, I've seen worse in professionally published work.
I leave you with a quote I particularly liked, from a scene where Ivy first sees the squalor some of Beltane's residents live in:
"It's exactly what the Queen wants you to feel. If you're disgusted by those beneath you, you're less likely to want to help them, even if it was those like you who put them in that position in the first place."
...no wait. One last thing, but spoilery. (view spoiler)[There's a scene in Ivy's final fight with the queen that just broke my heart -
"All you do is ruin everything and hurt people so why don't you just die." ... "We may be the same," the Queen hissed, desperate. "But I doubt that was me you were talking to." Ivy smiled a little. "Yeah," she said quietly.
This is something it's hard to talk about without revealing the Queen's identity, hence spoilers, but the way that the conflict with her manifested Ivy's own self-hatred and the way she blames herself for her mother's death was really stunningly done. I was, for a time, expecting her mother to be the Queen, even though it made little narrative sense, but this is so much better. One of the things that intrigues me most about where Ivy's character could go in the second book is that she's now gotten a look - a real, physical look - at some of the darkest and most vicious sides of her psyche, and she's confronted and acknowledged it. Then she ends the book on another deep loss, and I find myself wondering where she'll go from here: will she make the Queen's rage her own and seek pure revenge? Or will she, now more aware of her own mind than ever, find another way? (hide spoiler)] ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Added at the bottom: the perfect song for this book. Seriously, if it's ever made into a movie, this song should be in the trailer.
The description onAdded at the bottom: the perfect song for this book. Seriously, if it's ever made into a movie, this song should be in the trailer.
The description on this book's GR page is not my favorite synopsis. I think my little well-loved paperback says it better:
This is the story of Corlath, golden-eyed king of the Free Hillfolk, son of the sons of the Lady Aerin. And this is the story of Harry Crewe, the Homelander orphan girl who became Harimad-sol, King's Rider, and heir to the Blue Sword, Gonturan, that no woman had wielded since the Lady Aerin herself bore it into battle. And this is the song of the kelar of the Hillfolk, the magic of the blood, the weaver of destinies...
Because easy as it is to think this book is just about Corlath and Harry, it's really not. The kelar is a driving force, enough that I see it as a third main character. It pulses through this book much as it pulses in the blood of our two protagonists, moving the story to its will, arranging events to suit its needs without much care for mortal feelings or objections.
Therefore, while I understand how some might object to the fact that this story begins with Harry being kidnapped by Corlath, in a way they were both kidnapped. Corlath himself is a prisoner, in a way, of the wild unpredictable magic he carries - there's a reason, after all, that they call it the king's madness. He no more wants to take her than she wants to be taken, but the kelar needs her to be Damarian, so neither of them have a choice.
Now, given that she's compelled and aided by something that powerful, Harry's entry into a new culture is remarkably easy, and this would be a problem if not for the fact that the point of this book is something entirely different. It's a great adventure story, of course, but it's not about the adventure story. It's about Harry finding her place in the world - a classic coming-of-age. From the first line of the first chapter, we know she doesn't fit where she is. She is discontent, restless, hiding it under a mask of polite manners. One might suspect, then, that once she's been accepted by the Hillfolk, she will be content, but that is not the case. One of the things I love about this book is that Harry's critical decision, her defining moment, is when she chooses not to give up the part of her that is 'Outlander'. Because she reconciles two different parts of herself, instead of denying one or the other, she is capable of achieving her goals. It takes courage to do that, and courage is Harry's defining trait. She is, even when taken captive, determined not to show fear; when she understands that the Hillfolk don't mean her harm but still have no intention of returning her to her people, she approaches new experiences with determination and a generally good attitude.
One of the things that keeps me coming back to this book and its companion, The Hero and the Crown, is the land of Damar itself. I think it's even more vivid in this book than in the other, even though THATC showed it in its prime. There, it seemed like a fairly run-of-the-mill fantasy kingdom. Here, seen in decline and through the eyes of a foreigner, it is astonishing and beautiful. This is where the strength of the Damarian people and the richness of their culture really shines, because this is where we see them in duress. They are proud, they are strong, they are noble and good-hearted and graceful. Their beautiful horses appealed to me when I was young and in that horse-crazy phase every girl goes through, but now what calls to me is their sophistication. Even though they don't have 'modern' conveniences and seem like savages to the Homelanders (who are, by the way, wonderfully British), they are not uncivilized in the least. There is a wonderful nuance in how McKinley presents this: instead of going the 'presumed savages are actually more advanced/special/sophisticated than the invaders' route, she makes them cultural equals in different ways. Both civilizations have distinct advantages and disadvantages, and neither is presented as right or wrong. While this book does somewhat deal with imperialism, it doesn't moralize, and the Homelanders are never villains simply because it's recognized that they are people too.
And then there's the relationship between Corlath and Harry. Corlath, when we first see him, seems like an intimidating and powerful sort, and he kind of is. But he's just as lost and confused, in different ways, as Harry is - just as unsure how to deal with the situation they find themselves in. He is not an unkind man, just an unsure one.
Some of my favorite moments in this book are his, including this one: 'Long after Harry had cried herself to sleep again, the Hill-king lay awake, facing the grief he had caused and could not comfort.'
Or this: 'He would help this girl now, as much as he might, stranger and thief as he might be to her. He would do what he could.'
(view spoiler)[Their reunion, of course, tops the list. Poor Corlath seems to have been so lost without her, and she so unsure of her reception - that moment when she slides down from Sungold and hugs him is just gorgeous. And then we get this intricate, gorgeous declaration of love from Harry:
"My king, I would far rather you kept my sash as you have kept it for me in faith while I was gone away from you, and gave me your sash to wear in its place. For my honor, and more than my honor, has been yours for months past, but I saw no more clearly than did you till I had parted from you, and knew then what it would cost me if I could not return. And more, I knew what it would cost me if I returned to be only a king's Rider."(hide spoiler)]
The two of them together are a matched pair of lost souls who aren't lost at all when they're together, and it's beautiful.
Oh, I'm rambling, as I rather knew I would. The bottom line is: if you haven't read this book, you've done yourself a disservice and should rectify the problem immediately.
Now, since Luthe reminded me that I need to, I'm going to go re-read The Hero And The Crown.
Addition: Desert Rose by Sting could have been written about this story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I am going to save my reminiscing about this series for the third book. Or at least I'm going to try. Some might creep in unnoticed.
First off: I HATE SI am going to save my reminiscing about this series for the third book. Or at least I'm going to try. Some might creep in unnoticed.
First off: I HATE SPIDRENS I HATE SPIDRENS I HATE SPIDRENS I HATE SPIDRENS. Spidrens were, actually, the first Immortals I ever read about, because I went straight from the Lioness Quartet to this series. So in the first chapter or so, when Kel finds a spidren biting the heads off kittens, I was deeply disturbed. I still am. What I love about that scene is Kel's reaction. She wades across a river, gathers a handful of stones, and goes after the monster with only rocks for ammunition. Seriously, this girl is the most badass ten year-old EVER. She's awesome. And she's got a great attitude, to boot: chock full of determination and not about to let traditionalists keep her from becoming a knight. Her motivation to seek knighthood, too, is wonderful; she has a powerful, idealistic belief in chivalry and cannot ignore injustice. This is the kind of pure good straight-up heroine that it's always great to come back to, because you never doubt her; she works for her goals and keeps them always in mind. You know the quip about how a woman has to work twice as hard to be considered half as good as a man? That's the situation Kel is in, and she handles it admirably, right down to making sure everyone remembers that YES, tradition has been broken and there is a girl in their midst by wearing dresses to dinner every night. She is so mature, so confident at such a young age - it's awesome. Rarely does she doubt herself, and she's never ashamed of her gender despite the disadvantage it places her at and the cruelty some of the other pages subject her to because of it.
Of course, Kel doesn't do this alone. She gains an excellent group of friends over the course of her year on probation, and that's what helps this series be more than just an Alanna Redux. As Raoul says in Squire, there are several kinds of knights; Alanna is the lone hero type, and Kel is the leader type. It makes sense, then, that while Alanna's story was really focused on her and her adventures, Kel's has a wider supporting cast and they're given plenty of development. (This is, of course, building towards the moment when she needs all of them in Lady Knight.) From quirky Nealan of Queenscove, who's the oldest of the pages and Kel's sponsor, to Kel's year-mate Merric of Hollyrose, they're all great characters and people I would want to be friends with, especially in Kel's position. And they care about her, as evidenced when Neal calls her out for roaming the halls looking for wrongs to set right. It's wonderful to see a tight-knit, realistic group like this portrayed in YA. Kel is no Bella Swan-esque moping loner, and it makes her a far richer character.
I'm not really sure where this review is going, or for that matter where it's been. (It's a bit messy up there, I think.) A lot of what I want to say about this series I'm saving for the later books, so for now: If you're new to Tortall, you can start here easily; if you're familiar with the world, this entry in its history is not to be missed. Kel is a heroine to root for and look up to, and if I had my way young girls everywhere would be reading about her adventures instead of about sparklepires and the like....more
EDIT: March 26, 2011. Rest in peace, Ms. Jones. The world has lost a wonderful author today.
Review: Can I give this book six stars? How about ten? TwentyEDIT: March 26, 2011. Rest in peace, Ms. Jones. The world has lost a wonderful author today.
Review: Can I give this book six stars? How about ten? Twenty? No? Well, darn.
I finally read this book after watching the Miyazaki movie for the second time, and I love them both, no matter how different they are. (It bears mentioning that the fact that it's impossible to get the face of movie Howl out of my head is probably part of this.) Seriously, though. Day after I watched the movie for the second time, I picked up the book and just read straight through. Took me around three hours; totally worth it. I will read this one again and again and again....more
One of my favorite books ever, and I don't say that lightly. Now, if only Mr. Wright had ever given my copy back! (Note: Never loan a book based on thOne of my favorite books ever, and I don't say that lightly. Now, if only Mr. Wright had ever given my copy back! (Note: Never loan a book based on the Mahabhrata to your Asian Humanities teacher. You might as well have dropped it into a black hole.)
Anyhow I'm not really sure how to describe why I love this book so. The story is beautiful, that's a large part of it. The characters are strong and well-shaped, that's another part of it. The prose is gorgeous. The setting is truly magical. The tragedy twisted at my heart. I read it once and was impressed; read it again slowly, savoring, and was swept away. Hinduism really has a claim on the whole 'fate and reincarnation' thing that keeps getting tossed around in YA. And while reincarnation isn't a subject of this book, fate is. If you want to read a brilliant, tortured star-crossed romance, this book is for you. If you want a great adventure story, this is a good bet. If you're wondering what this Mahabhrata thing is all about, try this perspective on for size before you go after the far lengthier versions. Because of this book, one of my goals is to get through a 900+ page translation of that great epic, and if I'd never read The Palace Of Illusions, I might never have discovered the Mahabhrata at all.
It feels like every time I turn around, Alexandra Bracken has risen to new levels of excellence in her works. From the beginning I've been a fan of heIt feels like every time I turn around, Alexandra Bracken has risen to new levels of excellence in her works. From the beginning I've been a fan of her work, but looking back, this trilogy completely blows Brightly Woven out of the water.
The Darkest Minds, as a series, is quite simply the best YA dystopia I've ever read. Its setting is terrifying but plausible; its characters are flawed but heroic; and this conclusion was one of the most satisfying ends to a series I have ever read. I don't even know how to start explaining how marvelous it was - how Bracken seamlessly interwove character development and relationship resolution with necessary plot elements, how beautifully it mirrored the first book, how I love Ruby Daly's growth arc beyond words.
The element that distinguishes this the most from other YA dystopian novels I've read is the way trauma experienced by characters is woven into them. All of the kids in this series have gone through hell, and they've all found different ways to survive and move forward. The depictions of PTSD and anxiety attacks in this book were painful to read, but at the same time one of its strongest aspects. Their roads to recovery aren't linear, and importantly, they hurt each other along the way and must learn to repair that damage even as they struggle to heal. It's a level of emotional complexity that is beautifully rendered and in many ways unique.
Obviously, because this is the third book, I have to talk some spoilers so... those of you who haven't read the series yet, get on that. The rest of you can read on.
(view spoiler)[Bracken is spectacularly good at heart-dropping moments in this series. Liam's letter to himself about Ruby just about ripped my heart in two. You love her, you love her, you love her. God. Liam in general was spectacular in this book - "I can find us the one real shot we have doing some lasting good in a world that's already too violent" really struck me like. This kid has gone through so much, struggled with so much, and yet he is so essentially committed to being good.
And speaking of Stewarts who are committed to things - Cole's death totally blindsided me; I kept expecting him to appear out of nowhere and end up okay. And yet... looking back, and having read one of Bracken's Tumblr posts about why she made that writing decision, I see how it fits? It also works well with the two characters he's in foil relationships with, namely Liam and Clancy - Cole differs from Liam in that he doesn't feel like he can form bonds with people again because he's too different and dangerous, and from Clancy because what Clancy sees as power he sees as a curse. Like Clancy then, his arc ends because of his abilities - but where Ruby uses her Orange talents to give Clancy the gift of peace, Cole burns the way he always expected to.
There's a much longer essay here about this, but I can't really articulate it just yet. But - dang did that trio work well in this series.
Speaking of Ruby using her abilities as a gift, I about cried when she gave Lilian Gray back her memories. Not just because of what she did, but because of what it means for Ruby herself. The first book felt so hopeless, like all the people whose minds she had erased herself from were never going to be part of her life again, but this - she's grown, she's developed, she has moved past the fear and now she can mend all of her bridges. that was beautifully satisfying.
Unnerving as it was, I found myself agreeing with Clancy early in this book. "They want to strip you of yourself - your ability to protect and enforce your right to make decisions about your life. Your own body. Mark my words: in the end, it won't be a choice. They'll decide this for you." For someone who has, in the past, used his Orange abilities to violate Ruby's boundaries and take away her agency, he makes a good argument. I was immensely pleased to see Chubs take it up at the end as well: "I finally have the right to choose what I want for myself but, if I make the wrong choice, I'll still be punished for it?" and "By locking someone up for making a choice about their body that they have every right to make, what you're essentially saying is that, no, you don't trust us. Not to make good choices, not to treat others well."
Fundamentally this series is a story about fear of the unknown, about potential danger that can't be controlled. The point that Clancy and then Chubs make is one that applies outside of the fictional world: that that fear hurts people in unconscionable ways, and that people deserve better. We can't just shut away everything we don't understand, and we certainly can't use that lack of understanding to tell others what choices they can make about their lives and their bodies.
This is at once both my favorite volume and one I can't stand. A testimony to the writing and characterization, I suppose, but that doesn't mean I donThis is at once both my favorite volume and one I can't stand. A testimony to the writing and characterization, I suppose, but that doesn't mean I don't quietly resent it.
(view spoiler)[That Hughes's death can hurt so much to read/watch after such a short period of time is truly amazing, but much as I respect the skill that went into it, I still wish it hadn't happened. In fact, eventually I'm going to plot out and perhaps write a Doctor Who/FMA crossover to change that and see what happens. (hide spoiler)]
Spoilers for the nature of the evil plot: (view spoiler)[Re-reading is really nice, because now I know what Hughes figured out and how he did it. That man is a bona fide genius, to be able to put so many things together and see the transmutation circle on such a huge scale, especially after he'd only seen a rough diagram of it and just for a short period of time. And he probably at least guessed that Bradley was in on it, too, since his first reflex was to call the President and then he reconsidered. (hide spoiler)]
The bonus story at the end does make the volume a bit more bearable, since of course it's the Black Hayate one - always good for a smile and very necessary, what with everything else.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Alexandra Bracken just keeps getting better. Now, I'm a bit biased - I read Brightly Woven when it was in ARCs and I've been on the fan train ever sinAlexandra Bracken just keeps getting better. Now, I'm a bit biased - I read Brightly Woven when it was in ARCs and I've been on the fan train ever since (choo choo!) but seriously, damn.
Where do I even start?
I guess... first of all, all of the strengths of The Darkest Minds are still present. I love this vision of dystopic America, I love the characterization of all the side characters (the terrified savagery of the kids, the anger or the kindness of adults, the constant portrayal of the choices people have to make to survive now), I love Ruby and Chubs and Liam and Vida and Jude and literally all of the protagonists and their relationships. The narrative twists and turns are fantastic, the villains/antagonists both scary and believable.
The standout aspect of this book is Ruby's characterization. She is so.... gah. Ruby Daly is amazing, and definitely among my favorite YA protagonists ever. The way Bracken portrays both her flaws and her strengths is incredible; the fact that she can't seem to go anywhere without gathering a group of people she desperately wants to protect; the way that she cares so much and is so afraid of herself - it's so perfectly rendered, and makes her into such a strong character and a protagonist I cheer for. (No, seriously. The last line of this book? PERFECTION.)
I will say that it felt very second-book-y, particularly given the events that happened in the denouement. A lot of this book seemed to serve mostly to get people to the physical places and emotional states they need to be in for In The Afterlight - but at the same time, it was so well-done and so engaging to read about how they got there that I don't mind in the slightest.
(also: COLE??? COLE WTF. COLE.)
If you're not reading this series yet, go pick it up. It is, in my opinion, the best YA dystopian series on the shelves right now. ...more
My college roommates and I are all huge Sanderson fans, and for this series we've established a tradition: while one of us cooks, someone else reads tMy college roommates and I are all huge Sanderson fans, and for this series we've established a tradition: while one of us cooks, someone else reads the book aloud, so we can all enjoy it together and at the same pace. It's a great experience, and I highly recommend it - if you're the kind of person who likes to snark at movies, this makes for the book equivalent. Plus: real-time discussion and theorizing, which is always a plus.
Reading this book, like reading its predecessor, ended with two of us distressedly hugging on the couch and yelling about Prof.
Some books just go that way, I guess.
Back when Sanderson announced this series, I had really low expectations - I figured it'd be interesting enough 'cause, you know, Sanderson, but nothing exemplary. Steelheart pretty much lived up to my expectations in that regard. What Firefight reminded me is that Sanderson is at his best when he can draw on knowledge the reader is expected to have. Steelheart is the foundation, and Firefight is the building itself: much more complex and intriguing, and full of new secrets and developments.
The standout aspects of this book for me were definitely a) the new worldbuilding information, which makes me very excited for the third book, b) the development of Megan and David's relationship - I wasn't huge on it in the first book, but they're tooth-rottingly cute in the stupidest, nerdiest way here and it's amazing, and c) the deviating twists and turns of the plot, as what seems like another straight-up 'kill a High Epic terrorizing a city' goes in different directions entirely.
This book is definitely the first sense I got of what the shape of the whole series is, and how it's escalating. It's definitely a set-up for the finale (and ends on a cliffhanger, so be warned) but I'm willing to accept that given how well this managed to raise the stakes. There's a real crescendo of an ending coming, and I can't wait....more