I just finished this - I will attempt not to use the word spellbinding, though I'm sure the protagonist, Del, would approve; engrossing? - YA fantasyI just finished this - I will attempt not to use the word spellbinding, though I'm sure the protagonist, Del, would approve; engrossing? - YA fantasy by Mary Borsellino and I had to review it right away.
The book draws you in with a fantastical but grounded and believable world that has realistic hierarchies, classes and social structures and, importantly, a sense of its own rules. I've definitely read a number of fantasy books that had few consequences for magic, and even when not plot-relevant (or seemingly not), Ruby Coral Carnelian knows power has weight to it. (Drat, couldn't resist a pun. You'll have to read to find out why.)
So for people like me who love a good bit of worldbuilding, that will grab you from the first. It's the characters that kept me reading though. Protagonist Del is an unexpected blend of awkward, damaged and fiercely loyal as well as charming and funny, and his relationship with siblings Nicholas and Kelsie - and how it develops from envy and impatience to respect and chosen family - is very compelling. Likewise, the twins are fully fleshed out and the trio develop each other very well through their interactions without need for heavyhanded narration. Borsellino is super talented in the art of character study and many times I wished I could just hang around with these characters as much as watch the plot progress.
My only complaint, really, is sort of the mirror to that. While the protagonists are well developed and snag the reader, I found myself lacking a little bit of creeping persistent evil that I would have loved from the Coral Sorcerer - I just wanted to know a bit more. He, and Del's backstory, both were things I could have read a lot more about.
Still, I wouldn't say that's a bad thing. The book definitely left me wanting a sequel that might expand on the lives of the characters after the book, or a prequel. (If by some magic each portion of the story - Ruby, Coral, and Carnelian - were all extended into stories about this length, I would be pleased as ...a very pleased thing!) Borsellino's writing is simply a bit sad to put down.
(Edit: As a YA fan since before I was ...a YA...and after, I also think young readers would not necessarily expect as much detail as I craved. Maybe some fanfic is in order.)
RCC also has Borsellino's trademark inclusion of (gender)queer characters that aren't defined by their identity, and an awareness of and distaste for social stratification, as well as the positive portrayal of chosen families. I love this in all her work but it is incredibly refreshing in a genre that rarely represents minority groups. In fact, it would be a great way to introduce nonbinary gender to kids without fuss.
I would recommend RCC to anyone of any age, but particularly fantasy oriented teens looking for strong characters regardless of gender and relatable teens. I know it reminded me of my favorite YA books such as Diane Duane's Young Wizards as well as things like Tamora Pierce....more