Hazel and Jack have always been best friends, bonding over their shared love of science fiction and fantasy. They play make-believe “superhero basebal...moreHazel and Jack have always been best friends, bonding over their shared love of science fiction and fantasy. They play make-believe “superhero baseball” and hang out in a derelict house they call the Shrieking Shack. But now that they’re eleven, Hazel’s mom is pushing her to make some female friends, and Jack is more interested in hanging out with his male friends than with Hazel. Then the impossible happens: Jack is taken away by a mysterious witch, and Hazel is the only one who can rescue him. Anne Ursu’s Breadcrumbs is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” and it’s fantastic.
Ursu perfectly captures what it’s like to be a child of about eleven, just on the cusp of puberty but not there yet. You’re old enough to know that believing in magic is considered childish, but you don’t want to live in a world without it. Social cliques are shifting, sometimes for no discernible reason, and you feel the loss of friendships without ever knowing what went wrong. And maybe your parents get divorced (Hazel’s), or maybe they’re suffering from a mental illness (Jack’s), or even if none of that happens, you’re starting to realize they don’t have all the answers. Or they don’t have the answers you want to hear, or they seem to be answering a subtly different question from the one you’re asking. Ursu uses a delicate touch with the familial issues; the book never feels like a Very Special Episode About Divorce or anything like that. Instead, the issues are woven seamlessly into the kids’ lives along with their fantasy geekdom.
Later, when Hazel ventures into the realm of fairy tales, she learns that it contains many dangers that “would have been beautiful, as a story.” She encounters a variety of odd folk and situations, all drawn not just from fairy tales but from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in particular. (This was when I finally processed the fact that the heroine’s name is “Hazel Anderson”!) She’s offered several different kinds of oblivion; the challenge is to press onward even when peaceful forgetfulness would be easier, and to help people along the way if she can. Even if Hazel can find Jack, he may not want to be rescued; maybe he wanted the Snow Queen’s brand of oblivion.
Always present, too, is the possibility that Hazel might save Jack from the immediate physical danger but still lose him emotionally. My favorite example of this theme has long been that penultimate transformation in Patricia McKillip’s Winter Rose, but now Breadcrumbs is going right up there with it.
Erin McGuire’s illustrations are a treat, too. The ARC only has some of the drawings, but they are gorgeous and I can’t wait to see the rest. And I adore the cover: the woods, the wolves, and scrappy little Hazel looking just like she’s described in the text.
This is a beautifully written book — and intelligently written, too. Ursu never talks down to her audience in terms of vocabulary or metaphor. Kids will enjoy this, especially kids who are introspective and bookish like Hazel herself, but I think it may actually be even more enjoyable for adults. This isn’t so much a book for children as it is a book about childhood, meaningful for readers of all ages. I’m in my thirties and I loved Breadcrumbs. It took me right back to when I was Hazel’s age and dealing with some of the same heartaches she was going through. I recommend Breadcrumbs to anyone who is a geeky kid… and anyone who has ever been a geeky kid.
ETA: Since writing this review a few weeks ago, I've wondered if there's another significance of the kids being eleven--that's when you get your Hogwarts letter, or (since Harry Potter is fiction) that's when you don't get your Hogwarts letter. The current generation of kids has always had HP in their cultural landscape. I first started reading the books when I was 20, so I don't have them in the blood in the same way, even though I loved most of them. I joke that my Hogwarts letter went astray--but how many of today's kids hoped for one in all seriousness?(less)
I went to look up something about this book and realized I'd never posted my review here! So here it is.
Phoebe, a woman in her thirties, is having the...moreI went to look up something about this book and realized I'd never posted my review here! So here it is.
Phoebe, a woman in her thirties, is having the first serious relationship of her life. She comes from a rough upbringing and sometimes feels out of place in Sam’s wholesome world, amid his organic diet, his intellectual friends, and his seemingly perfect mother. But an old wound festers at the heart of Sam’s family: his sister Lisa disappeared when she was twelve. Family legend holds that she was spirited away by the fairies. Sam’s a rational man, though, and he insists that she was taken by an ordinary predator. As Don’t Breathe a Word begins, Phoebe and Sam receive a phone call that implies Lisa is still alive and wants to communicate with them.
Don’t Breathe a Word alternates between two points of view: Phoebe’s, as she and Sam delve into the mystery of Lisa’s disappearance and possible return; and Lisa’s, fifteen years earlier, in the last few weeks before she vanished. Lisa is a girl just on the cusp of adolescence, young enough to sing clapping rhymes and old enough to realize the adults in her family are keeping secrets. The novel’s many layers of illusions, lies, and fairy tales unfold for Phoebe, Lisa, and the reader all at the same time.
Jennifer McMahon incorporates a great deal of the traditional folklore about fairies. The story builds up to Midsummer, a date often associated with these beings. They’ve been said to enjoy offerings of childish comfort foods such as sweets and milk; as Phoebe’s fragile happiness begins to fall apart, she takes solace in cake and Hamburger Helper. Fairies are most powerful during liminal times, or liminal periods in humans’ lives; the pubescent Lisa is at a liminal point, and so is Phoebe (though she doesn’t know it yet). McMahon obviously did a ton of homework and wove it into the story in a way that flows naturally.
The book will have you thinking about how we tend to mythologize, to tell stories that help us make sense of traumatic experiences. How many of the old, scary fairy legends were actually built around catastrophic mental illness, sexual abuse, or premature death? Conversely, if fairies appeared in our own cynical time, what kinds of tales would we tell to rationalize them?
Is Don’t Breathe a Word a story about human evil dressed up as a story about fairies, or is it a story about fairies dressed up as a story about human evil? As you read, you’ll vacillate several times between the two explanations. The most significant answer McMahon seems to offer is this: either way, it’s chilling and heartbreaking.
At the same time as the tragic events tug at your emotions, the book’s layered plot will give your brain a workout. This is the kind of book that you finish and then want to start right back over at the beginning to see what new details you can catch on the reread. The ending is of the ambiguous type that is both frustrating and haunting. I wished for more certainty – but at the same time, I recognized that a more concrete ending wouldn’t stick with me as long. McMahon leaves enough questions to keep the reader thinking long after finishing the book.
I read Don’t Breathe a Word in two days, unable to put it down. It’s my favorite book of 2011 so far, and one of the most faithful evocations of the old, deadly tales of the fairies.(less)
What a ride! I count myself fortunate to be a “late adopter” of Karen Marie Moning's FEVER series, because that meant I was able to devour its five bo...moreWhat a ride! I count myself fortunate to be a “late adopter” of Karen Marie Moning's FEVER series, because that meant I was able to devour its five books in rapid succession, almost as if they were one single long novel. It’s been an intense experience, the kind I always want to find in urban fantasy and so often don’t. This series has everything: a mystery; a twisty plot that isn’t confusing to read even when you don’t yet understand everything that’s happening; a dynamic heroine who changes as the story progresses; a complex, fascinating world; great sex (yeah, I said it) that always serves plot or character rather than the other way around; a touch of humor…
I’ve also seen Moning’s writing develop over the course of the series. Her descriptive prose has grown more lush and her plotting more complex. I’m pretty sure she’s had much of Shadowfever’s plot planned all along, but this hefty (608 pages) final installment has enough plot twists for another four books! When I was about halfway through it, I told a friend it was “a big brick o’ plot,” and I meant it in a very good way.
”Now I’d lost everything,” Mac told us at the end of Dreamfever, but because Moning is EVIL, she didn’t tell us who had just died (though it’s not hard to guess). At the beginning of Shadowfever, we learn who bit the dust, and what Mac decides to do afterward. She starts thinking maybe she wants the Sinsar Dubh for her own purposes. Now she just has to decide what she’s willing to do to get it. She’s always had an unusual connection to the tome, too, and she begins to wonder about the nature of that connection — especially when she finds evidence that she may be the reincarnation of the Unseelie King’s concubine, or maybe of someone even more frightening.
There’s so little I can say about the plot without leaking major spoilers. I’ll just say that there are a ton of twists and that the tension level is somewhere in the stratosphere. Rarely have I felt so much temptation to flip ahead in a book and make sure this or that disaster didn’t happen; yet the story is so enthralling that I resisted that temptation due to sheer desire to let it unfold as written.
There’s one plot element, (view spoiler)[ Barrons not being permanently dead (hide spoiler)], that I was quite sure would transpire, and I was worried that it would feel like a cop-out when it did. Instead, Moning weaves this into a major subplot with a tragic history, and makes it feel like an organic part of the story rather than a cheat.
Mac’s world is a male-dominated one in many ways, and Mac has often needed to be rescued. It’s gratifying that her input ends up being crucial to the solutions of two of the biggest problems in the book: in one case her willpower is needed, in another case it’s her ability to think outside the box.
Now that the series is finished, I can heartily recommend it with two caveats: you have to be willing to read about morally ambiguous characters — the “heroes” are often as ruthless and conniving as the “villains” here, and Moning has stated on her blog that it’s intentional — and you have to be OK with a lot of sex. As I said above, it’s always relevant to plot or character, but there is a lot of it, and progressively more as you get further in the series. If you are accepting of those two elements, FEVER is an addictive, spellbinding, unforgettable series that takes you on one heck of a trip and then comes to a satisfying end with Shadowfever. Moning has stated that there may be future books in this universe, but these five books are a self-contained and resolved storyline.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I have a bad habit of overusing the word “haunting.” Ergo, I worry that when I use it here, it won’t pack the punch it really should. Let me just say,...moreI have a bad habit of overusing the word “haunting.” Ergo, I worry that when I use it here, it won’t pack the punch it really should. Let me just say, then, that when I say Lavondyss is haunting, I mean it. This book settled into my bones like a hard winter. It will stay in my mind forever. I feel like I’ve lived a whole second life by reading it, and I’ll probably read it again at my earliest convenience just to see if I catch anything I missed the first time.
I had trouble getting into the previous book, Mythago Wood, but I was glad I read it and am now even gladder, as it provides lots of background that helps make sense of Lavondyss. Lavondyss feels more like a “straight” fantasy novel, though; while there is still the idea that people create mythagos with their minds and that many of the book’s mythagos are personally tied to its central character, to me it feels that this time the story and the world stand more on their own and have more of a life outside of the character’s psychology. I feel less like I’m reading a slightly veiled book on Jung and Freud, and more like I’ve been sucked into a seductive, visceral fairy tale. I’m yet again reminded of a work of nonfiction — this time Robert Graves’ The White Goddess — but this time the analytical part of my mind was content to curl up by the fire and let Robert Holdstock spin his tale.
In Mythago Wood, Steven Huxley’s traveling companion was Harry Keeton. Lavondyss centers on Harry’s younger sister, Tallis. Born when Harry was already a grown man, Tallis only knew her brother briefly, but she and her family are haunted by his disappearance. Tallis is an uncanny, precocious girl with an instinctive gift for magic, and it’s simply enchanting to follow along as she learns the ways of the wood and its spirits. Eventually, she journeys into the wood on a quest to find her missing brother. What happens after that, I won’t spoil, since I want you to be able to discover it for yourself. It’s an enthralling story, though, sometimes sad, sometimes beautiful, sometimes scary as hell. There are layers within layers, timelines looping around themselves in ways that don’t become evident until later, and an ambiguous ending.
I love ambiguous endings, and I hate them. I love them and hate them because they stick with me, nagging at my brain, never letting me forget them. I lay awake for hours after finishing Lavondyss, prodding at the ending in my mind, wondering whether the “happier” interpretation of the ending might actually be a sadder one. I simultaneously wished Holdstock had clarified it and was very glad he hadn’t. It’s more memorable this way, and fitting for the MYTHAGO WOOD universe.
Lavondyss has everything I love in a book: compelling characters, vivid prose, mythic elements, art-as-magic, complex character relationships, and just the right amount of ambiguity. It’s a fairy tale, the old kind with blood and revenge and jaw dropping wonder. It’s the kind of book that, when you finish, you feel the urge to flip right back to the first page and start over. (The only reason I didn’t was that it was the middle of the night. Blasted day job...)
For better or for worse, I have a habit of comparing books to other books. It helps me sort out my own thoughts, and it makes recommendations easier,...moreFor better or for worse, I have a habit of comparing books to other books. It helps me sort out my own thoughts, and it makes recommendations easier, of the “If you liked X, you’ll like Y” variety. A complex book like Skyler White’s In Dreams Begin is hard to pin down. When a comparison finally did come to me, it was this: Reading In Dreams Begin felt like finishing Robert Holdstock’s Lavondyss and A.S. Byatt’s Possession on the same day, then going to bed and having a strange, sensual dream.
Like White’s previous novel, and Falling, Fly, In Dreams Begin features two point-of-view characters. One is Laura Armstrong, a graphic artist in modern-day Portland. The other is Ida Jameson, a Victorian woman with an interest in the occult. On Laura’s wedding night, she’s spirited back to the past by one of Ida’s experiments in spiritualism, and into the body of Ida’s friend Maud Gonne. When Maud has her fateful first meeting with William Butler Yeats, it’s really Laura behind Maud’s eyes, and a passionate attraction sparks between the two. Laura is torn between her waking life with her new husband and the romantic dreams (or are they dreams?) that take her back every night to Maud’s body and Will’s love. The timelines don’t run at the same speed, though, and Laura returns each night to find months or years have passed in Will’s time.
Ida has a fascinating character arc of her own. Manipulating people and events toward her own ends, Ida could be seen as the villain of the piece. It’s hard not to feel sympathy for her, though; she sees herself as unloved, ugly, clumsy, and always second fiddle to Maud. Her role in the novel’s events turns out to be far more complicated than it appears at first glance.
Skyler White introduces each chapter with a quotation that fits the events about to transpire; some of the quotes come from Gonne’s autobiography, some from Yeats’s poetry and letters, some from other writers such as James Joyce and Dion Fortune. These quotes could, if looked at just the right way, suggest the uncanny goings-on featured in the novel. She ties her own prose in with Yeats’s poetry, too, both by using a lyrical style and by invoking images from the poems in her scenes (for example, one memorable scene echoes the “And bending down beside the glowing bars” stanza in “When You Are Old”). Skyler White’s style was already beautiful and distinctive in and Falling, Fly, but in this sophomore effort she has improved. Here is an example of In Dreams Begin's prose:
Through the provincial streets to its tiny cemetery, Maud had walked, a priestess or a secret witch cloaked and hooded with Ida, her familiar bird, wing-in-elbow beside her. But inside Georges’ little burial chapel, Maud shrunk to an Irish crone, her ritual robes a weathered shawl wrapped over curling shoulders and the hollowed-out hole where her heart had been, and Ida, her carrion bird behind her.
In Dreams Begin explores topics such as art, beauty, fidelity, and the nature of love. It’s an intensely sensual story; readers who hate sex in their fantasy novels had best stay away, but readers willing to surrender to In Dreams Begin’s spell will be rewarded with a thought-provoking read. As in and Falling, Fly, White finishes the novel with a conclusion that will have you scratching your head, saying “Oh!” as pieces fall into place, and maybe thumbing back to earlier scenes to reread them with new knowledge in mind.
In Dreams Begin can be read as a standalone; you don’t have to have read and Falling, Fly to follow it. If you have, though, some moments will take on an extra layer of meaning.
This is one of the best, and most brain-tickling, books I’ve read this year. For a poetry geek like me, In Dreams Begin is a seductive dream indeed.
(Update: finished reread, settled question in my head. Old review below.)
Note: This review may contain spoilers. I've tried to be vague on the actual...more(Update: finished reread, settled question in my head. Old review below.)
Note: This review may contain spoilers. I've tried to be vague on the actual plot points, but there are some spoilers of a structural and/or thematic nature.
"Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love. It did not end well."
The “angels” and “devils” of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone are not quite what those words would lead you to expect, but are given an original twist. The angels are closer to the angels we know — specifically the fearsome, fiery warrior type of angel, not the gauzy kind that helps adorable children cross bridges. They differ from the popular conception of angels in that they’re placed in a religious context of Taylor’s own invention. Their enemies are the chimaera, a race of human/beast hybrids whom the angels revile as demonic. These two races dwell in the realm of Eretz, parallel to our own world, where a war has raged between them since time immemorial.
But Karou knows nothing of this, not yet. Karou is a young girl living in Prague, dividing her time between the bohemian life of an art student and an even stranger secret life. She was raised by chimaera. Her guardian is the enigmatic Brimstone, who often calls upon her to help him collect teeth. Some of the teeth are used to fuel wishes. Others... well, Brimstone keeps his secrets, even from Karou.
I first experienced Taylor’s beautiful writing in 2009’s Lips Touch: Three Times, a collection of three original fairy tales (which you should all go read right now, if you haven’t already). It was such a pleasure getting to sink into her prose again as she unfolded Karou’s world. Prague comes to life in all its quirky beauty, and the scenes in Brimstone’s shop are so visual and so detail-rich and so odd that reading them feels like walking into a Brian Froud painting. Here’s one favorite passage:
"The first time she’d come to Prague, she’d gotten so lost exploring these streets. She’d passed an art gallery and a few blocks later doubled back to find it, and... couldn’t. The city had swallowed it. In fact, she had never found it. There was a deceptive tangle of alleys that gave the impression of a map that shifted behind you, gargoyles tiptoeing away, stones like puzzle pieces rearranging themselves into new configurations while you weren’t looking. Prague entranced you, lured you in, like the mythic fey who trick travelers deep into forests until they’re lost beyond hope. But being lost here was a gentle adventure of marionette shops and absinthe, and the only creatures lurking around corners were Kaz and his cohorts in vampire makeup, ready with a silly thrill.
There’s humor too:
“It’s not like there’s a law against flying.” “Yes there is. The law of gravity.”
At first I worried that Karou would turn out to be a Mary Sue, since Taylor occasionally pans out to an omniscient point of view to tell us that Karou is beautiful, or that Karou is a mystery even to her friends. I needn’t have worried. Though she is beautiful and has blue hair, Karou is a fully rounded character with a balance of virtues and flaws and Taylor allows her to make mistakes. She’s an endearing mix of loyalty and resourcefulness and whimsy — and a touch of pettiness and immaturity. I loved her to bits.
The other aspect of Daughter of Smoke and Bone that had me worried was the romance. One of the trends that annoys me in paranormal YA is insta-love, in which two people become eternal soulmates without really getting to know each other first. A warrior angel, Akiva, comes into Karou’s life, and though they at first see each other as enemies, a connection is forged and they fall in love. In a lesser novel, this would descend into cliché and the relationship would be one of sugarcoated perfection, with no conflict other than maybe a contrived metaphysical rule to keep them apart, or a second love interest tossed in to create drama. But this is not a lesser novel. There is much more going on than you might think. And when conflict does arise between Karou and Akiva, it is not sugarcoated; it is not sanitized. It’s tragic, and it’s real. I think Taylor may even be commenting upon the insta-love trope with this novel. When you fall in insta-love, she seems to say, there are things about that person that you simply don’t know yet.
The full extent of this conflict only reveals itself at the very end, in a twist that will knock the breath out of you and cast all the book’s previous events in a new light. The most crucial event in the story actually occurs pretty early in the page count, but it’s only later that you learn what actually happened and what it means. The map shifts behind you. The puzzle pieces rearrange themselves. Right after finishing, the first thing I did was read that big reveal again, as if it would say something different this time. Then I found myself thumbing back to previous scenes and rereading them, finally understanding their true meaning. I love books that rearrange themselves like this; last month I read a book that was unsatisfying until it was reinterpreted by a twist, and from that point on I enjoyed the book. In the case of Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’d probably have given it four and a half stars even without the twist, and even with the insta-love, because of the sheer beauty of the prose and the intricate mystery of Karou and her world. With the twist ending, it becomes one of the most memorable fantasy novels I’ve ever read.
Also striking is the theme of prejudice. So much of the plot hinges on the hatred between the angels and the chimaera. This is a story about how two groups can be locked in a war that neither side really wants to fight anymore, but the hate is too entrenched for either side to find peace palatable. It’s a story about how people can dehumanize an Other in order to justify atrocities. It’s a story about how sometimes falling in love with a member of a hated race can make you see all of them in a new light — and sometimes it just makes you see that one person as the exception. It’s a story about how an unexamined privilege — one that seems minor to the one who possesses it — can poison a friendship. But there’s also a hint of hope that a better world might be attainable. I don’t think it’s an accident that Ellai’s garden reads so much like an Eden.
In retrospect, I can see a few seeds of Daughter of Smoke and Bone in Lips Touch: Three Times. I’m reminded of “Goblin Fruit” in that Karou is the kind of woman Kizzy would have loved to be, and in the gutsy, gut-punch ending. I’m reminded of “Hatchling” in that the story begins with eccentric people in a real-world city but quickly becomes much more high-fantasy than one might expect. There’s another similarity to “Hatchling,” too, but it’s a spoiler, so you’ll have to read the book to find that one.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone is what I wish more paranormal YA novels could be. I may sometimes seem to be down on paranormal YA, but I don’t inherently dislike it. In fact, I like it very much, at least in theory, and so I want it to be good. So often, too often, it’s not. Daughter of Smoke and Bone really is that good. Just go read it already. It’s the first in a new trilogy (though it has its own complete story arc) and I’m dying for the next book.
As I started reading On the Edge, my biggest question was, would lightning — or magic — strike twice? Could Ilona Andrews write something just as grea...moreAs I started reading On the Edge, my biggest question was, would lightning — or magic — strike twice? Could Ilona Andrews write something just as great as her Kate Daniels series, in a completely different universe? The answer, it turns out, is yes!
The world-building is a little more familiar, but Andrews puts an original spin on it. There’s an Otherworld full of magical beings, called the Weird, and there’s our mundane world, called the Broken. Andrews’ twist is the Edge, a realm that lies between the two. “Edgers” can travel freely among the three worlds, but are second-class citizens in the Weird and the Broken. They often have magical abilities, but these abilities are usually not as strong as those of Weird-dwellers.
The heroine, Rose, is an Edger. As an outcast teenager, she put in years of grueling practice to develop her magical ability to an astounding degree. She did it to thumb her nose at the bullies who tormented her, but her skills just brought her more trouble instead. For years, she’s been fighting off slimy Edge and Weird men determined to use her for breeding stock.
Rose is also raising her two brothers, Georgie and Jack, ages ten and eight, each of whom possesses a dangerous magical talent. The boys are delightful, and bring to mind Phédre no Delaunay’s description of Imriel as a boy: “heart as vast as the plains of Jebe-Barkal and twice as fierce.”
Then, Declan, an arrogant blueblood from the Weird, walks into Rose’s life, declaring that he intends to marry her. Obviously, she wants none of this. He promises to go away if she can stump him with three challenges. But before long, Rose has more on her mind than outsmarting Declan. Horrifying beasts are stalking her Edge village, threatening to devour Rose and her brothers. Only by working together can Rose and Declan hope to defeat them.
On the Edge combines a suspenseful fantasy plot with a terrific love story. It’s a little more “romancey” than Kate Daniels, but I don’t say that as a complaint. The romance is lots of fun, and sometimes hilarious. Rose and Declan may come from different worlds, but they’re well-matched in spirit, brains, and courage. (Note: if you find Declan insufferable at the start, hang in there.)
Speaking of courage, one of the things I loved about On the Edge, and that I’ve also noticed in earlier books by Andrews, was the bravery of the central characters. Some urban fantasies feature protagonists who can’t really be termed “heroes.” Andrews’ protagonists can. Their willingness to risk their lives for their loved ones is admirable and moving. I had tears in my eyes more than once.
There’s a twist to the ending; I saw it coming, but it was gratifying anyway. It’s familiar like a fairy tale is familiar, not the way a cliché is familiar.
On the Edge stands satisfactorily on its own but also leaves room for sequels. I’d love to see further Edge books; there are several characters just dying to have their stories told!(less)
I'm having a hard time reviewing Lips Touch: Three Times. Intelligent language seems to be failing me. I don't want to write a review so much as I wan...moreI'm having a hard time reviewing Lips Touch: Three Times. Intelligent language seems to be failing me. I don't want to write a review so much as I want to jump up and down and squeal like a crazed fangirl. Lips Touch is chocolate in book form. It's dark, it's rich, it's delicious, and it's precisely to my taste.
Lips Touch is a collection of three stories; the common theme, as you might guess from the title, is the kiss. In fairy tales, a kiss is often the catalyst for transformation. Laini Taylor is, without a doubt, writing fairy tales here. From the threads of older stories, she weaves new tales that have all the power of the old.
The first story, "Goblin Fruit," is set in the present day and features an unpopular high school student, Kizzy, whose unfulfilled longings make her easy prey for malevolent spirits:
Kizzy wanted to be a woman who would dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy's blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn't possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer's small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear an indigo veil against the stinging sand, just like the nomads.
Kizzy's best hope of fighting off the goblins' influence is her late grandmother, who, as a girl, rescued her sister as Lizzie saved Laura in Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market. Her spirit lingers near Kizzy still, as a protective influence. The ending of this story knocked the wind out of me. I should have seen it coming, but didn't. I liked that, ultimately, the actual fruit offered to Kizzy was almost irrelevant. It's the temptations you're not expecting that you have to worry about…
Next is "Spicy Little Curses Such As These," set in colonial India. An old woman makes a deal with a demon, the effects of which threaten to destroy a young couple's budding romance. There are echoes of Hindu and Greek myths here, though I can't say what myths without spoiling the most delightful plot twist in the story! I thought I knew where Taylor was going with this story, and braced myself for the ending I thought was coming, and then little details started sifting their way back into my mind. A hint here, a scrap of foreshadowing there, and suddenly things looked quite different! This was probably my favorite of the three tales.
The final tale, "Hatchling," is the longest story. It deals with a race of cold, beautiful beings called the Druj, inspired by the less-Disneyfied legends of the faerie folk:
Druj live forever and have forever lived. There are no new Druj, no young Druj, no ripe bellies, no babes. If their race began as infants, that history was lost in ancient books, swallowed by fire or mold. As for their memories, they have proven unfit for immortality. They recede into a lake of mist, revealing nothing. They have no legends, not even of a time before the forests grew. Nothing has ever been new, least of all themselves. To an ancient folk dulled by eternity, children are a revelation.
That's why they keep them as pets.
Esme and her mother, Mab, have lived in hiding for fourteen years, ever since Mab escaped the Druj's clutches while pregnant with Esme. Now, the Druj have found them, and they want Esme, for reasons that unfold slowly and are more complex than you might think. This story's plotline is fascinating, and it's filled with harsh, chilly imagery that matches the Druj themselves.
I adored Lips Touch overall, and I don't think it would be hyperbole to say that this, along with Louise Hawes' Black Pearls, is some of the best fairy-tale writing I've seen in years. Fans of writers like Angela Carter and Tanith Lee should take notice. Laini Taylor is going places, with her moving tales and her lush yet piercing prose. As I said, it's kind of like literary chocolate, or to put it in Taylor's own words:
"Well, okay," Kizzy said, feigning reluctance and unwrapping one of the chocolates. It was so dark it was almost black and it melted on her tongue into an ancient flavor of seed pod, earth, shade, and sunlight, its bitterness casting just a shadow of sweet. It tasted…fine, so subtle and strange it made her feel like a novitiate into some arcanum of spice.
Lips Touch also features illustrations by Taylor's husband, Jim di Bartolo. My copy is an ARC and doesn't contain all the artwork that will be featured in the finished book; some is still blank and some is labeled "not final." But from what I can see, the illustrations are going to be beautiful and fitting for the stories.(less)
(Book read and reviewed four years ago--just realized I never copied it over here.)
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was so caught up in a book...more(Book read and reviewed four years ago--just realized I never copied it over here.)
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was so caught up in a book that she did nothing all day but read it, from cover to cover.
Black Pearls is a gem. Louise Hawes' dark, sensual fairy tale retellings and Rebecca Guay's evocative illustrations work perfectly together to form one of the best books of retold tales that I've ever read. I checked this out from the library, but I've resolved that I simply must have a copy of my own to treasure.
Hawes' prose is perfect for the genre. Her writing is beautiful without being heavy, and she has a talent for conveying visceral images in arch, elegant turns of phrase. She's also got a knack for metaphors. They're sometimes unexpected, sometimes familiar, and always perfectly fitting for the character who thinks them. (Rapunzel's witch compares hatred to poisonous mushrooms, Gretel notes that her angry stepmother is "set and stiff as beaten cream," and one of the seven dwarfs sees a bedraggled Snow White as a diamond that has not yet been cut.) My favorite metaphor in the book comes from the Snow White retelling as well: "watching the orange village at the bottom of the fire tumble into ruin".
My favorite among the tales is "Evelyn's Song," which tells the story of the golden singing harp from Jack and the Beanstalk. It's a haunting tale of servitude and freedom. The other stories, too, look at the old tales from new angles and explore the tangled emotions that lurk within the archetypes.
I would recommend this collection to anyone who enjoyed the Datlow/Windling fairy tale series, Tanith Lee's Red as Blood, and though Hawes sets her tales in "once upon a time" rather than our time, Francesca Lia Block's The Rose and the Beast.(less)
I knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that this book was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check....moreI knew, just by reading the back cover blurb, that this book was right up my alley. Women with mystical powers? Check. Faeries? Check. Ireland? Check. In fact, I think the only reason I didn't discover this book earlier is that it was published in 1991, and I only got hooked on fantasy sometime in the late nineties.
The story begins with Emily, a bratty but endearing girl of fifteen, poised on the edge of adulthood in the early 20th century. Emily knows she is special, set apart-and when she sees the faeries in the wood by her family's home, she knows she will never be satisfied with ordinary life. Emily makes a colossal mess of things, as bratty fifteen-year-olds will do, and sets in motion events that will affect generations to come.
What follows is a fairy tale, but not precisely a tale of faeries; it's more of an exploration of the nature of reality and of myth, as seen through the eyes of Emily and two other women: Jessica, a glib-tongued teenager of the 1930s whose tall tales have an uncanny way of coming true; and Enye, a woman of the late 1980s, torn between everyday life and a battle with supernatural forces from the world beyond.
This is a stunning story and one that I'll probably reread over and over again. It doesn't suffer one bit from the ailment that afflicts so many multigenerational novels: the tendency for one or more of the intertwined stories to lack luster. All three of the women, and their lives and times, are vivid and passionate. And I must say, there are few male authors who can write such nuanced and three-dimensional female characters. Get your hands on a used copy of this. I wish they'd reprint it... (less)
Cross Elizabeth Hand with Fire and Hemlock, and you might end up with something like Freda Warrington's Elfland. This is the kind of big, sweeping mod...moreCross Elizabeth Hand with Fire and Hemlock, and you might end up with something like Freda Warrington's Elfland. This is the kind of big, sweeping modern faerie tale that you don't see often on the adult shelves anymore. There's been some beautiful work done in YA recently, but in the adult realm, the trend has been away from novels like this. And that's a shame. Elfland is complex, rich, sensual, beautifully written, and sometimes heartbreaking.
I devoured Elfland. I carried it with me everywhere for four days, because I never knew when I might have a spare five minutes to steal a page or two. When I was at work, I looked forward to going home so I could read more. I read late into the night, every night. I was hooked. That, to me, is the surest sign of a five-star book: the complete inability to put it down unless I absolutely have to!
Our heroine, Rosie Fox, is of Aetherial (fae) descent, living with her family just this side of the Great Gates that divide our world from the Otherworld. Rosie's haughty neighbor, Lawrence Wilder, is the Gatekeeper, and as such, is supposed to open the Gates every seven years to allow travel, and a flow of energy, between the realms. As the story opens, however, he has shut the Gates, claiming a great danger lurks on the other side. Elfland follows Rosie, her family and friends, and Lawrence's family over the course of the next fourteen years. Fourteen years: long enough for a girl to grow into a woman, for loves to be lost and found, and for family secrets to explode. Long enough for some Aetherials to decide it's better to deny their fae nature, and for others to resort to desperate measures to reopen the Gates.
At its heart, Elfland is about how denying one's true self is a sure path to disaster. It's also a love story. I usually don't go for romances in which the hero and heroine bicker, but Warrington makes the trope sing. Rosie and her eventual love interest get off on the wrong foot as kids, and the way their relationship develops seems painfully realistic to me, with the characters slipping back into snarky retorts because they're familiar, and because the retorts serve as an outlet for emotions more disturbing than anger. Both characters have a lot of growing to do before they're a good match for each other. Elfland is, in part, the story of that growth, and of the sometimes wrenching mistakes made along the way.
When the plot moves into the Otherworld, Warrington handles the journey perfectly. It would have been easy to let the story get bogged down in travelogue here, to slow the pace down by showing the reader every single strange thing that populates the Aetherial realms. Warrington doesn't fall into this trap. She gives us a glimpse of how beautiful and how terrifying Elfland can be, but leaves some things to the imagination, and keeps the focus firmly on the characters' quest. This has a dual effect: it keeps the plot moving, and it allows the Otherworld to retain some of its mystery.
If I have any quibble at all, it's that I don't think the slang needed to be "Americanized" for the US audience. It's not necessary, and it's not done consistently. Characters sometimes obtain higher education at "uni," but sometimes they go to "college" instead, and one character calls another "gay as a nine-dollar note." I wouldn't have minded British slang. The book does take place in Britain, after all.
That's a tiny gripe, though, and overall I loved Elfland. It's a sumptuous feast of a novel, filled with vivid characters, magical locales both earthly and Aetherial, and a complicated plot in which nearly every detail turns out to be significant in the end. I'll definitely be looking up Freda Warrington's backlist.