What can I say about Plain Kate that will get you to read it? Because that's what this really comes down to: I want YOU to read this fantastic little...moreWhat can I say about Plain Kate that will get you to read it? Because that's what this really comes down to: I want YOU to read this fantastic little book. So, what do you want in your reading material today? How about... ...an interesting setting reminiscent of (but not identical to) various Eastern European cultures? (Edit: After finding Erin Bow's website, I learned this was inspired by Russian folktales- but nothing about it felt particularly Russian to me, so I stand by this. I may be wrong. *shrug*) ...a Roma-like culture that is neither vilified nor glorified, but presented as people surviving and living life the only way they know? ...a heroine who is strong and confused at the same time, who struggles with her choices and makes mistakes, and whose problems fitting in resonate with pretty much anyone? ...a feline companion who behaves like a cat you might actually meet, and yet whose actions create some of the most poignant moments in the story? ...writing with a Robin McKinley-esque lyricality, but more straightforward? ...a creative, dramatic, beautiful fairytale-like story which doesn't seem to set up for a sequel at all? ...a YA novel without a love triangle- and for that matter, without a love interest at all, where the search for family precludes any possibility of smut? ...an 'antagonist' so honestly sympathetic that you end up genuinely liking him, despite his crimes? ...a page or so at the end that makes you cry?
If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, Plain Kate is for you. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's published by Scholastic, or that it's targeted at ages 12 and up; this is a book for preteens, teenagers, and yes, even for grownups. It reminded me of both Sabriel and The Blue Sword, which is a feat, but was never wholly similar to either book, and always held onto a wonderful uniqueness and freshness.
P.S. If anyone finds a way to get the cover in gigantic poster-form, let me know. This is one of the prettiest books to just look at that I've ever encountered.(less)
Re-read it this morning, and I have a few notes- 1. I would totally be Morwen if I was in this series. 2. Even if I could finish it in far less than a d...moreRe-read it this morning, and I have a few notes- 1. I would totally be Morwen if I was in this series. 2. Even if I could finish it in far less than a day, I really enjoyed it. Nice trope-mocker. 3. I can't read it without hearing the voices from the audiobook from time to time. Which is actually kinda fun.(less)
Brian Jacques was one of the pillars of my childhood. I grew up with the Redwall series, pretty much literally; the full-cast production audiobooks we...moreBrian Jacques was one of the pillars of my childhood. I grew up with the Redwall series, pretty much literally; the full-cast production audiobooks were a constant on family road trip, and there were a lot of the books in my elementary school library. I now own nineteen of the books, plus three Tribes of Redwall booklets, the Map and Riddler, the official cookbook (and yes, I've made some of the famous feasting food; watershrimp and hotroot soup really is that good), two picture books, and the official Friend and Foe guide, which I suppose is now out of date. My dad used to have Lord Brocktree and Martin The Warrior... until I appropriated them. The jar in which my penny collection now lives has a red 'R' painted on the lid, because it used to be where I'd put all my money so that someday I could buy the official merchandise from the official website. I wanted a backpack like mad.
This is all to say that I will never, ever, ever rate a Redwall book less than four stars. I just can't. So even though yes, they're all very similar and yes, this one was plagued with run-on sentences that were really very distracting and yes, Salixa's introduction was not very graceful, I DO NOT CARE. It's a Redwall book. That's all it needs to be. I have other authors I turn to when I want new ideas or thought-provoking conflicts or deep characterization. This is my comfort food. This is where I turn when I want something simple, uncomplicated, with heroic good guys and dastardly villains, without any love triangles or paranormal nonsense, with more than its fair share of Fonetik Aksents (burr aye), with that undeniable Britishness that's just fabulous. No messages, no agendas, no politics. Redwall books never pretend to be something they're not, and I love them for it. Also, there's the fact that after so many years of listening to the audiobooks, I can hear Mr. Jacques' voice in my head when I read, and that makes me think that while he may be dead, he's never really gone, because he left us this beautiful legacy and I think I can safely say he changed my life.
So rest in peace, Brian Jacques, and know that you will always be remembered and loved by readers for generations to come. And thank you. Thank you so very much.(less)
I am a big fan of Tamora Pierce, and this was the first book of hers I ever read. While the plotline isn't too complicated- it gets more so in later b...moreI am a big fan of Tamora Pierce, and this was the first book of hers I ever read. While the plotline isn't too complicated- it gets more so in later books- the story is told with strong voice and flair. It's been a long time since I reread it, but I remember very clearly Alanna's determination and creativity as highly inspiring. Coming-of-age plus fantasy plus defiance of tradition come together to make this a powerful, fun read, and a banner novel for 'Sheroes' everywhere!(less)
Here is another book that I love too much to really review, and since I'm trying to save all my reminiscing about how important this series has been t...moreHere is another book that I love too much to really review, and since I'm trying to save all my reminiscing about how important this series has been to me for the third book, I'm going to keep this short, with just a few of the things I loved about this entry:
- Kel's friends, and particularly Neal. From page 13 of the trade paperback: "Neal had taught Kel to know the palace the year before, assisting her with classwork and cheering her worst moods with his tart humor. In return she tried to keep him out of trouble and made him eat his vegetables." - Lalasa, Kel's maid and a new addition to the cast. From page 126: "To his cousins Owen said, 'That's Lalasa, Kel's maid. She sews, and she knows all kinds of ways to hurt you.'" - The way Kel doesn't let anything slow her down, including puberty (which sucks enough when you're not undergoing rigorous physical training; I can hardly imagine how hard it would be to deal with in her situation.) - How most of the cast are genuinely good people, even the ones who represent Kel's abstract antagonist.
And with that, this brief reflection must end lest I veer into reminiscing one book too early.(less)
I'm going to make a statement which I probably will contradict in the future (because I'll forget) and which likely contradicts something I've previou...moreI'm going to make a statement which I probably will contradict in the future (because I'll forget) and which likely contradicts something I've previously said (and forgotten).
Keladry of Mindelan is my favorite Tamora Pierce heroine.
I thought for a long time while reading this book about that statement, and how true it was, and eventually decided that it was accurate. I love them all, of course, but with most of them there is an aspect I just can't sympathize with. Mostly (Sandry, Tris, Daja, Alanna, Daine) it's the magic factor. Pierce does a really good job of writing plausible magic, but as a result it's such an integral part of her characters' lives that it is difficult for me to empathize. The underlying themes are just fine, but the tangible day-to-day stuff of their lives is inherently fantastic just because of who they are.
Kel is significant to me for the same reason she's significant to other Tortallan girls: Lady Alanna proved that women could be knights, but she had magic to help her; Kel proves that anyone, so long as they have the determination, can win their shield. Because she has no magic to help her along, a lot of her troubles are similar to those faced by students in the real world - challenging classes, unfriendly classmates, strict teachers, conflict of ideas. This is a school story in a way that few people write them anymore, where the school part is linked to the plot and not just background. It's also a good way to shore up worldbuilding, because whenever Pierce shows a fragment of a class she's telling us something about Tortall as well as creating a sense of realism to the education her characters are undergoing.
But that's not the only thing that makes Kel my favorite. After all, the school setting was only a part of the story for the first two books; though Squire was still education-centric in a way, Lady Knight is far from it. So at this point, when Kel has been knighted and is off serving the realm, far outside my personal knowledge/experience base, what is it that makes her still sympathetic?
Without a doubt, it is her strength.
You will be hard-pressed to think of a heroine in recent YA who is as strong as this girl. There are some good ones out there, though most of the barrel seems to be bad apples, but Kel trumps them all. Her strength is not just physical or even mental, but in her convictions. She has an absolutely stunning sense of duty and justice that just blows me away every time. She has integrity. And she is also honest with herself: even though she believes in abstract concepts like duty and justice, and fights for them, she doesn't glorify the act of fighting nor pretend like her decisions have no consequences.
"You all know why we're here," she told them. "You know the enemy. He will be on us soon. When he comes, we will fight not for some glorious cause, but to survive."
And do her decisions ever have consequences. I wouldn't dream of spoiling it, but let me just remind you that, as we saw in the finale of Page, Kel will risk anything for people under her protection.
Speaking of the people under her protection, the side characters in this book are just fantastic. Even the ones who get just a sentence or two feel like real people. (view spoiler)[Which means it really sucks when they die in the next sentence. (hide spoiler)] That's important, because the cast of this book is huge and keeping track of people is pretty crucial. Also, it's nice that only two characters (well, and one who's off-screen the whole time) are unmitigatedly evil; the rest, even the unpleasant ones, are in some way likeable eventually. Also, they are badass.
She thought the battle flags and shields take n from those Scanrans who had attacked her people that summer gave the walls a nice, homey touch.
This book makes me really, really want more Tortall series - not just the Daughter of the Lioness duet, but more after that. There is in particular one little girl who had better show up again, else she'll seem like she was just tossed in to give the quartet its name and that's sort of sloppy. Pierce is not very sloppy, so I'm sure it will be dealt with.
There is one other thing which is rather tangential that I wanted to remember to mention. I really, really like the way magic is handled in this quartet, and in this book in particular, since Tortall is at war. It is a limited resource, after all, and that's made clear here. Those who have scads of power (particularly Numair and Daine) are treated with a nice combination of respect and fear, which I really like. The ordinary people understand how important they are to the war effort, of course, but that doesn't mean it's comfortable to be around someone who can summon boulders from ten miles away!
If you enjoyed the rest of the quartet, you're pretty much guaranteed to like this one. Also, if you're tired of heroines whose happily ever after consists only of ending up with the right guy, check these books out - it's not too much of a spoiler to say that Kel winds up contentedly unattached. (view spoiler)[Though I'm still rooting for her to end up with Dom in later series. (hide spoiler)]
(By the way, I almost forgot this part: I love having a heroine who's tall, strong, muscular, and proud of it. No delicate waif, our Kel!)["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"]>(less)
This was supposed to be the one where I let myself reminisce, and I had all sorts of ideas for things I wanted to say, but now they all sort of sound...moreThis was supposed to be the one where I let myself reminisce, and I had all sorts of ideas for things I wanted to say, but now they all sort of sound like oversharing and I don't feel like making you uncomfortable, so I'm not going to do that.
It has come to my attention that certain people don't think this is a particularly 'moral' book. Not to name any names, but there are only two one-star reviews for it so I think you'll be able to find the one I mean pretty easily. I don't believe in trolling, and I'm not sure I could respond to that review without trolling, so I choose to write my rebuttal here.
Point One: Kel knows too much for her age. First off, she isn't fourteen for the entire book; by the end, she's had her eighteenth birthday. Second, the world she lives in and the life she's chosen to lead mean that she sees a lot of nasty things, but the way Pierce presents it is in no way gratuitous; it's wrapped up in maturity, which is one of Kel's strong points.
Point Two: She has crushes on multiple boys. OH THE HORROR. I mean, MY GAWD, who ever heard of a girl who liked more than one boy? We all find our ONE TWU WUVS in our teens and live babies ever after, right? I doubt I'm the only one who finds it refreshing to read about a heroine who has more than one love interest. I mean, how many crushes have I had in the past four years? Apparently, an immoral amount. Go figure.
Point Three: Kel has no intention of marrying anyone, but she does have relationships. If I remember right, Alanna made the same declarations and, well, there are two books about her daughter now so... But anyhow, in this day and age? Women get to have relationships that don't end in marriage. Just as they get to have crushes on multiple guys. And for the record, at no point in all four books does Kel have a sexual relationship. The closest she ever gets is kissing Cleon.
Point Four: Ilane, Kel's mother, buys her an anti-pregnancy charm. Which is actually inaccurate - Lady Ilane tells Kel that she might want one, but Kel's the one who makes the decision and purchases it. And I quote:
"Kel wore the charm anyway, as a declaration that she could decide some things for herself."
Clearly, my multiple crushes have made me immoral anyway, so maybe my opinion doesn't count for much, but I think that's one of the most empowering ideas of our time. That's what contraception is about, after all: giving a woman the freedom to choose when she has children. (And seriously, DID YOU MISS THE MEMO? Kel's dedicated years of her life and ridiculous amounts of effort to becoming a knight. If her choices were either complete abstinence or babies and giving up her dreams, I would be pissed, personally.)
Yes, this is the future of 'heroine-ism', or at least it should be. Maybe some people would prefer Bella Swan to take up that standard, and I'm not going to outright say that they're batshit crazy but I'm going to think it. The fact is, Kel is the heroine modern girls should be looking up to - she knows who she is, what she believes; she fights for her dreams; she takes control of her personal life and her sexuality; she is smart and brave and flawed and human. She is the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up.
Some choice quotes:
Lady Ilane: "They know a woman's body belongs to herself and the Goddess, and that's the end of it."
Kel: "Maybe I'm the same whatever I wear, she thought. It's just easier to fight in breeches."
(Now, I will grant that this book is a little light on plot. The main point is showing how Kel gets to the Chamber of the Ordeal to become a knight, and the experiences that help determine what kind of knight she is. That's the arc of the novel; most of it feels fairly episodic.)
By the way, Veronica Roth: Chamber of the Ordeal > fear simulator. Times about a gazillion. You should have read these books and taken notes.(less)
This wasn't supposed to be the next book I finished. I was planning to get through Eulalia! first, but I woke up one morning and rolled over and grabb...moreThis wasn't supposed to be the next book I finished. I was planning to get through Eulalia! first, but I woke up one morning and rolled over and grabbed this one for no good reason except it's easier to read paperbacks than hardbacks when you're lying on your side because you don't want to get up, and also because your cat is sitting on your hip.
Anyhow. That was yesterday. I think I read five chapters or so before breakfast. And then I had to face the truth: I'm addicted to these books. I crave them when I am not reading them. When I am, I need more more more all the time. If there was a way to inject them straight into my brain every now and again I would probably do it. Reading them is the closest I'll ever get to being well and truly high.
This is not my favorite installment, but it has some of my favorite moments. Shipping moments, naturally. Seriously, every time Daine and Numair start kissing a part of me goes "OKAY STOP THE PLOT AND JUST KEEP MAKING OUT FOR THE REST OF THE BOOK KTHX". (And they exchange a lot of saliva, so this happens fairly often.) This is the book in which Tamora Pierce proves that romance is better when it's drawn out slowly over an entire quartet, because by the time you get here every tense moment between the two of them sends shivers down your spine and it's far, far, far more electric than any one-book instamance.
One of my favorite bits:
"Of all the times for him to go protective on me. Maybe he ate something that was bad for him." She closed her eyes. "Maybe he loves you," Broad Foot said. She didn't hear. She was already asleep.
(Daine is so clueless about the whole thing that it's kind of hilarious. Also, you have to feel sorry for Numair.)
'Falling' is probably my favorite chapter of the whole quartet.
Okay, but moving on. There are other things to recommend this book. For one thing, Pierce is really, really, really good at humanizing the gods. For another, there are dragons! And perhaps most importantly, this is where we get the origin story of the Stormwings. I'm not going to give you any more detail about those things, though, because that could be spoilers. What I will say is that I love how the Stormwings are made more sympathetic over the course of the book, to the point that by the end of this one you feel like you understand them and, in some cases, even like them. (Now what I really want to know is what sick person dreamed up spidrens.)
The climactic battle is not nearly as good as that of Emperor Mage, but there are enough other delicious scenes that it's all worth it.
Also, I'm fairly convinced that Gainel, the god of dreams, is a combination of Neil Gaiman and his character Morpheus.
For those familiar with the Lioness Quartet and the Beka Cooper books, there's a brief cameo by someone present in both series, if you're watching carefully. (I eagerly await the day when we find out what the heck he is and why he adopts humans the way he does. If we ever do, which I suppose we may not. Damn cat.)
Anyhow, this quartet. If you haven't read it, you should really make it a priority. They don't make YA like this any more.(less)
I literally don't remember when I read my first Tamora Pierce book. All I can tell you is that it was Alanna: The First Adventure and it was probably...moreI literally don't remember when I read my first Tamora Pierce book. All I can tell you is that it was Alanna: The First Adventure and it was probably an audiobook that my parents checked out for one of our infinite family road trips. I can't have been much older than, say, third grade at a stretch. After that first one, needless to say, I was addicted. (Yes, I read Lioness Rampant in elementary school. It was... educational. Then again, I was already into Pern by then, so...)
I also don't remember the first time I read this book. I do, however, have the vague inkling that it was the third Tortall quartet I picked up. No, actually, that's for sure, because I read the Protector of the Small books early enough that I asked for a Kel haircut the first time I went from long locks to short... and I would have been ten-ish at the time, I think? I literally brought in my copy of Squire and said "I want my hair that length".
Anyhow. Needless to say, I've read this one a lot. Actually, that's an understatement. The only book on my shelves that I bought new that looks this old is another perennial favorite, Mariel of Redwall. Many, if not quite most, of my books are in good condition. I have read the hell out of this series, poor beloved things.
This book is a classic of growing up, to me. You see, if you take out all the magical elements, it's about a girl deciding to be an adult, to make the hard choices and accept responsibility for her actions. The whole quartet is Daine's coming of age. This book is her choosing to take the first step. As such, it never gets old. When I was Daine's age, thirteen and feeling odd finally being a 'teenager', I identified with her. Now I'm seventeen, practically holding my breath as I prepare too take the next step towards adulthood. Daine and I don't have magic in common, but we have something else: we both have wonderful friends that make the transition easier. I don't think I'll ever grow out of identifying with Daine.
Okay, so that's the personal bit. Now you know why I love to read these books. Let's talk about why you should read them.
First, there's the world of Tortall. Okay, I admit: It's one of the most improbable medieval-esque worlds you'll ever encounter. It's not gritty. It's not exceedingly realistic. It's still dangerous, but mostly it seems like a really happy place to be. And I promise you, it is a liberal's paradise. (Well, under Jon and Thayet's rule, at least.) There are free schools everywhere. There's an elite female corps in the military. Women can become knights and one of them is the King's Champion. People of all races come and go freely and encounter virtually no discrimination. The king is literally tied to the land, so there's your environmentalism covered. And as we find out in one of the Protector of the Small books, while there may be some homophobia present in Tortall itself, its allies are not so conservative; in the Yamani Islands it's just 'some men prefer men, some women prefer women'. (FYI, the Yamanis totally remind me of the Kyoshi Warriors.) Forget Hogwarts; if I got to pick a fictional world to live in, I want it to be this one.
Second, there's the character of Daine herself. She dances on the line of Mary-Sueness. I admit it. She's incredibly powerful, fairly good looking, innocent; she has secrets but she also has determination and skill with a weapon. (There's one or two other things that might make her even more Sueish, but that would be spoiling.) Despite all this, she never once gets on my nerves. I have consistently felt like her trust issues were well-portrayed, that even her incredible magical gifts required a logical amount of work to really use, that she never really got out of something without effort or consequences. And she loves learning - my kind of girl. I find her innocence endearing, her enthusiasm honest and charming, and her development as a character convincing and very real.
Third, there's the supporting cast: the Queen's Riders, the Queen, Alanna, George, Onua, Buri, Sarge - every last one of them strongly characterized and genuine good people. I mean, of course Alanna is my favorite of that list, but none of the others are weak. Even the Rider trainees, who don't appear too frequently, are solidly drawn and interesting. (Miri is my favorite of them.) The more I read this book, the more I understand their characterizations, and the more I appreciate it. There is no one who makes me roll my eyes when I see their name on the page.
Fourth, there's the Immortals who give their collective name to this quartet. Some of them (Griffins, dragons, winged horses, undines) are creatures out of traditional mythology. Some of them (spidrens, stormwings) are, as far as I know, made up out of whole cloth. (Aside to BB: Man, you thought the Stormwings were creative in this book, wait till you get to the explanation of their origins in the fourth book.) Can I just say here that spidrens are FREAKING CREEPY AS ALL HELL? Again, this comes in part from reading the Protector of the Small books first, since the first of that series opens with a spidren eating kittens out of a sack like potato chips, but still. DO NOT LIKE. But really appreciate the writing that went into making me not like them. As for the Stormwings... my lips are sealed for fear of spoilers.
Fifth, there's the depiction of Daine's magic and its pitfalls and advantages. I can't say too much, once more for fear of spoilers, but she has some kickass abilities and gets really good at using them as time goes on. What I loved in this book, though, was that getting to the point where she was even functional accessing her power took a lot of work and personal growth. And it was tied intimately to her overcoming her trust issues, meaning that the several plots of the book were actually all linked.
Sixth, there's Numair. Oh yes, I bet you were wondering why he didn't make the list of secondary characters? Because he's a main, but also because he's SO WONDERFUL he gets his own entry here. Oh goodness, where do I begin? Numair is a nice guy to the point where it's almost ridiculous, except it stops short of that and is just fabulous instead. Example: at one point Daine wakes him up in the middle of the night and he's not crabby at all. He's just all "Oh, how can I help?" And when she falls asleep after fixing that problem, he wraps her up in blankets and leaves her there. When she wakes up the next morning, his first question is about how she's feeling. There is one time he gets angry in this book and it is anger that springs from fear. (view spoiler)[Because, you know, she almost killed herself on accident. (hide spoiler)] (And he's funny when he's angry. Really, really, really funny. I laugh at that scene every single time.) Thank goodness for Numair. He's a breath of fresh air. On this side, we have the sadly common love interest of today, who's creepy, homicidal, stalkerish, rude, and sexist. On the other side, we have this gem of a wizard from 1992: kind, charming, earnestly sweet, caring, and determined to help Daine learn and grow as a person. I know which one I would pick in half a heartbeat. Oh, and did I mention he's one of the seven most powerful wizards in the world? Icing on the freaking cake there. As if he needed it.
In the (unlikely) event that I ever have children, or the (more likely) event that I become a godmother, I'm raising those kids, especially the girls, on Tamora Pierce. They will grow up not with Barbie and Ken but with Alanna the Lioness and Kel and Daine and Beka and all Pierce's other strong heroines. They will, as I did, hear not that girls are supposed to cook and sew and care about fashion but that girls can do anything they want to, that they are strong and brave and wonderful. They will learn from Alanna that they can accomplish anything they set their minds to. They will learn from Daine that growing up may be scary, but it is worth the trip. They will learn from Kel that no one needs to have a man, and that there is nothing more important than doing what is right. I forget what they'll learn from Beka because it's been a while since I read Terrier, but I do recall that she kicked ass in the usual spectacular Piercian fashion.
That being said, I'd probably start children with this series, unless they're spectacularly mature. This book will appeal to the horse-crazy in most young girls and introduce them to Tortall. From there, I'd let them roam free. I was going to suggest a reading order, but then I realized that would sound silly and stupid.
Final note: Tell me I'm not the only marine biology freak who almost cried when Daine heard forty blue whales. Please tell me I'm not alone. I would give up half my limbs for that kind of opportunity. It's rare enough in this world to see one or two blue whales. A pod of forty would give most marine biologists heart attacks of sheer joy. Yet another reason I would love to live in Tortall... sigh.["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"]>(less)
There is one thing you need to know about my relationship with this series: Redwall NEVER gets old. EVER. I don't care how many times I've read the descr...moreThere is one thing you need to know about my relationship with this series: Redwall NEVER gets old. EVER. I don't care how many times I've read the descriptions of feasts and battles and Mossflower and Dibbuns. I don't. Redwall will always have a special place in my heart, and on my shelf. The novels go next to the two picture books and the cookbook and the Map and Riddler and all the different tribe guides and someday, dammit, I'm going to buy that abbey model. If I ever have children, I am raising them on stories of talking woodland creatures. That is all.(less)