Fantasy is my favorite genre, but oftentimes I find that fantasy tales are often too simplistic or too pretentious for my liking. Fantasy authors haveFantasy is my favorite genre, but oftentimes I find that fantasy tales are often too simplistic or too pretentious for my liking. Fantasy authors have the burdensome task of creating worlds and cultures that feel real and somewhat familiar but nonetheless offer a sense of danger, wonder, and excitement that few of us experience in our day-to-day lives. In the end, many fantasy novels don't sustain that balance of normalcy and humanity interwoven with the threads of fantasy...but Seraphina remarkably did.
Seraphina is a tale of dragons and intrigues, music and emotions, humanity and prejudices. Forty years prior, the age of knights battling dragons ended with a peace treaty between the queen of Goredd and the king of dragons. Now, dragons shift into human skins and live among humans...but the animosity between the two kinds is far from forgotten. Seraphina Dombegh copes with this world and keeps to her music even as she tries her best not to be noticed, for the dragons aren't the only ones with secrets to keep...
In the vein of novels from Gail Carson Levine, Megan Whalen Turner, and Tamora Pierce, the kind of fantasy represented here sings of both our world and another world quite different from our own. Religion here acts as either a comfort or simply tradition to the people who receive patron saints at their christening ceremonies; analytical minds respect studies and knowledge but have much to learn as far as the study of the heart goes; and bigotry leaks into actions due to lack of understanding and an overabundance of fear. Goredd is a well-realized fantasy world comprised of many flaws from our own societies yet many of the same fascinations as well; it's not hard to fall into the imagining that perhaps this place exists in another space and time.
Strong and believable world-building aside, the novel's finest strength lies in its namesake heroine, who ties the themes and emotions running throughout the novel all together within her own existence and journey. Seraphina is by no means perfect or "too good for her own good": she has flaws and makes (sometimes mortifying) mistakes. But she isn't the kind of character who remains stagnant or oblivious to her own shortcomings. Rather, she learns from them and grows because of her experiences. If anything, more heroines should be like Seraphina, whose growth over the course of the novel is anything but superficial.
Last but not least, the story is honestly enjoyable. It's not the kind of fantasy where you feel like a mere observer but rather an unseen companion to all the goings-on within Goredd. There are moments ripe for smiles and laughs, for surprise and gasps, for melancholy expressions and contemplation...and all of it is done in a straightforward yet thoughtful narrative that can't help but play with your heartstrings. Seraphina was all that for me and more, and I hope other readers will find treasures of thought within its pages just as I did.
I must offer fair warning, however: the ending is bittersweet in its own way...but mostly for the fact that, with Seraphina's release date of spring 2012, the wait for the sequel will be long indeed.
Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley....more
Nearly sixteen and sheltered for much of her life by two overprotective guardians, Mirabelle Lively decides to take destiny into her own hands by runnNearly sixteen and sheltered for much of her life by two overprotective guardians, Mirabelle Lively decides to take destiny into her own hands by running away from home and to Beau Rivage, the site of her parents' deaths...and the place she has been strictly forbidden never to go. When Mirabelle arrives in Beau Rivage, she catches the attention of two brothers -- one prickly and hostile, the other kind and welcoming -- and finds herself caught up in the strange workings of a place she believes to be ordinary when it's anything but.
Honestly, I don't know how someone who's not familiar with the deeper themes of fairy tales (beyond the glossy veneer of Disney movie retellings and to the heart and bone of the original darker tales) will react to Sarah Cross's sophomore novel, Kill Me Softly. I could see many people becoming bored or disinterested in the story because they believe it's the "same old, same old" thing: untried and naive heroine who finds herself with a strange new destiny, check; the jerky boy who warns her to stay the hell away and who's not afraid to use force to do it, check; the understanding guy who swoops in and acts as the hero to the heroine's damsel-in-distress, check; the stirrings of romantic feelings in the span of hours and days instead of weeks and months, check; and a seeming love triangle in the making to stir up a lot of angst and drama among the characters, check. You want to believe that's all it is, don't you?
Well, I'm here to say, "Not so fast."
The preface alone promises that you shouldn't trust everything on the surface level:
Birthdays were wretched, delicious things when you lived in Beau Rivage. The clocks struck midnight, and presents gave way to magic.
Curses bloomed. [...]
Girls became victims and heroines.
Boys became lovers and murderers.
And sometimes . . . they became both.
Just like a true fairy tale, Kill Me Softly is so much more than what the surface would have you expect, and it is as much a mish-mash of fairy tale characters and themes as it is an examination and sometimes a deconstruction of many common fairy tale elements. What if you're locked into a fate you can't control? What if you try to fight against it, only to be forced into playing out your destiny by outside forces? What would that do to a person? Would you dread the inevitable, would you embrace your role wholeheartedly...or would you try to forge your own fate even though doing so might end up being pointless and fruitless?
I'm not going to lie: some readers are going to moan and groan as they follow Mirabelle, the protagonist. Why? One word: insta!love. (Cue groans all around.) I get it, really, since I'm usually the first on the "SAY NO TO INSTA!LOVE" train. But you know what? Even though Mira herself isn't aware of all the dangers of her insta!love journey, Sarah Cross as the writer obviously is. All the clues are there that Mira is thinking with the rose-colored glasses of infatuation for much of the story as she naively falls under the illusion of a "relationship." No reader is meant to believe that the "love" she finds is desirable. Instead, we're all meant to shake our heads in concern and pity as Mira ultimately stumbles into territory she isn't prepared to face. In truth, I couldn't help but be reminded of some of Angela Carter's fairy tale retellings as I read Mira's (sometimes upsetting, sometimes heartbreaking) story.
To focus merely on Mira and the insta!love, however, slightly takes away from the messages and themes of the story itself. I love that Cross questions the workings of fate and "true love" in the wrappings of fairy tale destinies. You have a Snow White who looks in the mirror every day and hates being told, "You're beautiful," because her growing beauty spells the quickening pace of her story becoming reality; you have a Beauty who knows who her Beast will be and loathes the very idea of saving him from himself; and you have a prince who has waited for his princess all his life even though he seems more interested in "playing the hero" than in hearing whether or not his princess wants him the same way. Through Mira's narrative, Cross explores all these stories and more and shows them in their good lights -- and their bad.
Aside from how much food-for-thought this novel gave me (since I love fairy tales and exploring their themes), I thoroughly enjoyed Kill Me Softly. I smiled as I read and imagined certain scenes; I laughed at the witty banter and interplay among the characters; I groaned as scenes developed in ways I hadn't quite anticipated or wanted; and I choked up during a few scenes, especially towards the end when -- just like in a real fairy tale -- all hope seemed to have been lost and heartbreak assured. It was the kind of reading experience that embraced me and wouldn't let me go until I had finished.
Overall, my verdict is, quite simply, that I loved Kill Me Softly, flaws and all. I don't know how other readers will fare with it, but I would recommend it to fairy-tale enthusiasts (probably the same ones who are enjoying ABC's Once Upon a Time at the moment). And I can only hope that Sarah Cross will revisit Beau Rivage in subsequent novels and follow other characters in their attempts to change their fairy-tale fates.
(Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.)...more
It seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
IIt seems fitting that I devoured Prized on Valentine's Day as if it were a box of chocolate -- but this book was so much better than chocolate to me.
I don't think a book in recent memory has made me dread or hope as much as this one did.
Prized made my heart a knotted mess, and then slowly -- painfully -- the knots began to untangle and leave me even more stricken.
This book and its predecessor Birthmarked are so much more than run-of-the-mill YA dystopian novels. They are rife with important topics (and even some criticisms): the merit of choice for women, their bodies, and their love lives; the shades of sexism that can lead to one sex dominating over the other; and the truth that difficult circumstances ultimately try who you are, what you believe, and who you will become.
I love Gaia, the heroine, for being a confused sixteen-year-old who is still more sensible, honest, and free-willed than most heroines in YA today.
I love Leon, the hero, for not being the "perfect guy," the be-all-and-end-all for Gaia. He has deep layers and dark shades, but he is not the "bad boy" stereotype many of us have come to loathe.
I love that their romance is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy, yet always passionate.
I love the story for speaking out about so many important things in quiet and subtle ways.
And I love Caragh O'Brien for giving me these books that I'll want to devour again and again. Please keep challenging me, making me ponder, making me fall in love with your characters in both their good moments and their bad. You even have permission to break my heart with your words and your characters (as you did with this installment), so long as you offer enough hope for me to piece my heart back together again.
I wait with an anxious (and dread- and hope-filled) heart for the third book, Promised, and can only hope that the characters I have come to love will reach the places they need to be....more
My first thoughts after finishing Ward Against Death:Oh my goodness, I loved this book so much, but now I have to wait a wh(Actual Rating: 4.5 stars)
My first thoughts after finishing Ward Against Death:Oh my goodness, I loved this book so much, but now I have to wait a while for the sequel to meet these characters again. Darn it, I read this too fast!
Ward Against Death, debut novel from Melanie Card, is the kind of book that should make a first-time novelist proud. Great main characters, awesome world-building, gripping plot, suspense, action, humor. . .whatever could go wrong here? All of those elements, when mixed well in just the right doses, hold so much potential to make a story great. . .and Ward Against Death was pretty darn great in my eyes.
The cover isn't the best representative of this book. If I were to have passed this book in a bookstore, I would likely have turned my nose up at it because it looks like a paranormal romance trying to appeal to the YA crowd by having two younger people on the cover. . .but this book isn't paranormal or even romance -- at least not in the traditional or expected ways. No, this book. . .this book is wonderful, honest-to-goodness fantasy in a realm all its own.
The story centers on Edward de'Ath, a.k.a. Ward, a bumbling twenty-year old necromancer with questionable powers. Don't let his scholarly appearance and naïveté fool you, though: he's actually been on the wrong side of the law quite a few times, to the point that he was even kicked out of the Physician's Academy. Though his main goal is to become a surgeon (an illegal profession in his world), he works a side-job of waking the dead for temporary periods -- and one such job is how he meets Celia, a nobleman's beautiful but dead daughter who claims she is in danger and must get out of her father's house. What's a poor necromancer to do?
Honestly, I loved Ward because of his struggles as a character. When we meet him in the story, he's such an unsure hero, a strange mixture of Ichabod Crane and Edmond Dantes blended with the characteristics of a scholar, a necromancer, and a physician. (Yes, he's that fun of a character. And he knows his stuff too!) Personally, I've always liked reading about characters who slowly grow into themselves and realize their potential and strength over a period of time. That kind of slow and steady growth makes their adventures and journeys so much more fulfilling. From this first novel, I can definitely say that Ward's adventures and journeys will be very fulfilling as he continues to grow and become as a character.
On the flip side, Celia was. . .well, to put it bluntly, badass. Expect her to be a damsel in distress? Expect her to be a whiner as she waits around for Ward to do all the work? Hah! No, believe me, she is definitely more akin to Buffy than Bella Swan! And what a relief that was to me! Prior to reading the novel, I fully expected to dislike Celia (since the blurb for the book doesn't really paint her in the best light), but she too grows throughout the novel. Yes, she has her flaws, but she doesn't stay stagnant and stubborn as many flawed characters often do.
The best thing I can say about these two as they grow into being a pair is that they bring out better in each other. Ward's strength solidifies after a bit of time under Celia's influence -- and Celia's cold hard-edged personality begins to soften and chip away into a different kind of power that shows care and compassion for another human being. The "romance" between them is much more a companionship born out of necessity, though chemistry and attraction weasel their ways into Ward and Celia's interactions. The back and forth banter between the two offers some of the best moments in the book -- so, yes, there is substance in this potential relationship.
This story's world in and of itself is a surprisingly rich and potentially fascinating creation. The world-building sometimes even showed a certain Tamora Pierce-esque flair due to the inclusion of a creator Goddess, a branched magic system, intrigues between humans and magic users, and even a certain level of prejudice coming from various areas (examples: nobles looking down on commoners, magic users looking down on necromancers, physicians looking down on surgeons, etc.). The various social norms for this world were even more on display since the hero and heroine themselves are rather "quirky" in their roles and their ideas of who they truly want to be. This world has so much potential, so I really hope that in future installments Card will really delve even more so into showing off her creation in all its shades and ambiguities.
As a storyteller, Card still has areas to hammer out in regards to her narrative -- repetitions in phrasing, drawn-out character ignorance, sudden solutions and lightbulb moments that teeter on the edge of deus ex machina -- but she presents such a very good package with this novel that it's so easy to overlook the flaws. The ending in and of itself felt a bit rushed (thus the reason why my five-star reading experience was knocked down to an official rating of four stars); I wish the last two chapters could have been expanded a bit for exposition's sake. What started out as a strong book ended not with the bang I had been expecting but rather a whisper. However, the story is a solid one that keeps you engrossed and intrigued, if only because of the characters and the questions of what their fates will be.
Needless to say, I am eagerly anticipating any and all sequels, so keep them coming, Ms. Card. I will be reading.
Now the question is, dear Goodreader, will you come along for at least the ride to be offered in this first installment, Ward Against Death? I very much hope you will consider it.
Note: I received an advanced copy from the publisher through NetGalley....more