The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly awesome combination of urban fantasy, Buffy-like hijinks and cinematic action scenes, with a dollop of t4 1/2 stars.
The nitty-gritty: An unexpectedly awesome combination of urban fantasy, Buffy-like hijinks and cinematic action scenes, with a dollop of teen angst and emotion thrown in for good measure.
"So, how does this friend of yours know about me and what exactly did she say?"
"That you were familiar with situations like this. That you were a . . . " He cleared his throat. "That you're a witch."
Lucifer couldn't stop laughing. "A witch? Seriously? Wow, is your friend off the mark. I'm not a witch. Not even close."
"Then what are you?" he asked.
Lucifer gave him a broad smile. "I'm a thief."
"Don't worry. I don't rob banks or pick pockets. I specialize in stealing . . . other things."
I was recently in a reading slump, trying to make my way through a slow book, and I decided to take a break and read something else. Hexed was sitting right by my computer, and since the release date was only days away, I picked it up and started reading. It sucked me in, people, and I barely came up for air and only put it down when my eyelids wouldn't stay open. What fun I had with this book! Hexed is based on Nelson's popular comic series of the same name, which I haven't read, but you can bet I will now. It's the first in a series about the magical misadventures of teen Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, or Lucifer for short. Lucifer may be a teen, but she's anything but ordinary. She lives by herself, and she's hired to steal dangerous magical artifacts so they won't fall into the wrong hands. Her only "family" is a woman known as the Keeper of Secrets, or the Harlot, who Lucifer tried to steal from once, but was caught. Now she's been literally branded by the Harlot and forced into taking over her job someday.
All Lucifer wants is to be a normal girl with a boyfriend, but instead she skulks around at night, breaking into buildings and stealing things, with her bag of magic spells over her shoulder to help her out. When a cop named Buck approaches Lucifer and asks her to help find his missing daughter Gina, who has been kidnapped by a witch, she has no idea what hell she's about to get herself into. With Gina's boyfriend David in tow, Lucifer sets out on a wild and circuitous trail in order to find a magical object that will help her rescue Gina.
There were so many things I loved about Hexed. First of all, the pacing was first-rate, and never for a moment was I bored. Nelson tells the story exclusively from Lucifer's point of view, which was a nice change of pace from all the multi-POVs I've been reading lately. I can easily picture this book being made into a movie someday, it was that well done. Lucifer reminded me so much of Joss Whedon's Buffy Summers, a tortured girl who just wants to be like everyone else, but is destined for something different. There was even a scene near the end that involved an evil corporation, and I couldn't help but think of Wolfram & Hart from Whedon's Angel.
Lucifer was a fantastic character, with just the right combination of bad-assery and vulnerability. She's been in the magic world since she was little, after growing up poor in a favela in Brazil, having lost both her parents before she was brought to the United States. Now she gets by on her quick wits and extensive knowledge of the arcane. As she has to keep reminding David, she isn't magic herself, but she can use magic. Lucifer never heaves home without her "trick bag," which she fills with spells that help her in her job as a thief. She's a wonderfully strong female character, but she doesn't flaunt it. Her strength is just part of who she is. And she just wants to help others, which is how she justifies stealing dangerous objects that could potentially harm people.
Gina's boyfriend David wasn't nearly as strong or likable a character, but honestly, Lucifer made up for him. I was actually quite annoyed with him, since he starts to fall for Lucifer (yes, there is a romantic element to the story, but it doesn't overwhelm it), and he's supposed to be in love with Gina. Lucifer falls for him too, but I got the feeling that it was more his pretty-boy athletic looks she was interested in, rather than his personality.
But I loved most of the other characters, even the Harlot, who—as scary and dangerous as she is—always has a comfy sofa and a cup of hot tea waiting for Lucifer when she comes to visit. A character who appears near the end is most certainly going to feature in the next book of the series, a woman who ends up taking Lucifer under her wing and offering her a job. And I can't wait to read more about her!
If you're looking for a fast-paced urban fantasy that pushes all the right buttons, then look no further. Hexed is a quick but memorable read, and the next book in the series can't come fast enough for me! Highly recommended.
Big thanks to Pyr Books for supplying a review copy.
The nitty-gritty: If Pulp Fiction and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest went to church and got pregnant, Afterparty would be their crazy, drug-soaked baThe nitty-gritty: If Pulp Fiction and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest went to church and got pregnant, Afterparty would be their crazy, drug-soaked baby.
Oh, we were such geniuses. A company of smarty-pants. Mikala the chemistry wizard, Gil the tech brain, Edo the money man, and me—the neuroscientist with the brilliant idea that we could cure the Afghanistan of mental disorders.
This is probably going to be my favorite book of 2015, unless something even better comes along. And it wasn’t even published this year, for cryin’ out loud! You guys, I had heard great things about Afterparty, but I had no idea that Daryl Gregory actually wrote this book specifically for me! Don’t you love it when that happens? OK, maybe he didn’t write it for me personally, but it feels as if he did. This is my third Daryl Gregory book, and I swear that guy never writes the same book twice. You would never know that this is the same author of Harrison Squared and We Are Completely Fine, two books I also loved.
Afterparty is about drugs. And religion. And relationships. And being a parent. And dealing with addiction. It’s about trust and betrayal and murder. But if any of that sounds too heavy for you, never fear. This book is not heavy. It’s entertaining. It’s got crazy action and road trips and trying to cross the border. But mostly, it’s got amazing characters, dialog and pacing. In short, it’s everything I want and need in a book. For this review, I’ve decided to give you my top ten eleven twelve thirteen reasons you should get off your ass right now and read Afterparty:
1. Lyda Rose. Our MC was named after a song (yes, that song!) but she’s also had her brain permanently altered by a drug called Numinous, and now she has her own personal angel who follows her around and gives her (mostly) unwanted advice. The problem is, no one can see the angel except Lyda, so she’s been locked up in a mental institution for a while. Lyda loves to swear and she’s a super smart neuroscientist, and I adored everything about her.
2. Bobby and his treasure chest. Bobby is Lyda’s friend from the loony bin, and he thinks his soul lives in a plastic treasure chest that he wears around his neck.
3. A beautifully written lesbian relationship. Lyda used to be married to Mikala, until that fateful night (you’ll see when you read the book!), and now she’s falling for Ollie, a brilliant computer hacker who is just as damaged as Lyda. I’m even more impressed that this completely believable and honest relationship was written by a male writer. Even better? It’s also a mixed race one. Bonus points!
4. A story with Pulp Fiction-like attitude. Guns, drugs, hit men, black humor and did I mention drugs? This is high-octane story that knows when to stop and take a breather.
5. Dr. Gloria! Dr. Gloria is Lyda’s angel, and I pictured her the entire story as Oprah Winfrey. Yep. I loved their dialog because first of all, Lyda is an atheist and doesn’t believe for one minute that Dr. Gloria is real. And she sometimes says mean things to her. But just like Jesus, Dr. Gloria always forgives Lyda.
6. Drugs. It’s no secret that I have a thing for books about drugs. I’m not sure why, maybe because there is so much you can do with the subject, especially in science fiction. In Afterparty, drugs are everywhere, and even Joe Normal can whip up a recipe on a chemjet printer and swallow a piece of paper to get high.
7. Science and future tech. Gregory did lots of research for his story. I loved all the details about the brain and how drugs affect it, but I also loved the cool gadgets. Like everyone has smart pens instead of smart phones (you flick open the screen like opening a fan).
8. Vinnie/The Vincent. Not all the characters are good. Vinnie just wants to run his ranch (which is inside his house!), but when he becomes The Vincent, you want to stay away from him. Far away.
9. Tiny buffalo! You’ll need to read the book to see what this means. I just wanted to say I loved the tiny buffalo!
10. The mystery of what really happened that night. It’s a mystery that Gregory drags out until the very end, and it’s part of the reason this guy’s pacing is BRILLIANT.
11. Sasha and her IF Deck!!! OMG Sasha is probably my favorite character. Maybe ever. I won’t tell you exactly who she is, or what the heck an “IF Deck” is, it’s just another reason you’ll have to read the book for yourself. But I want more Sasha, more stories about her please!
12. So. Much. Emotion. Not only do you get a kick-ass action story with awesome characters, but Gregory made me SOB at the end. I’m not sure why, but I was crying, damn it.
13. The ending!! Never have I been so happy to have the ending in my head match the actual ending of a book. I knew what I wanted to happen, and it did! And then I cried some more.
I know lots of reviewers have tried to analyze this story to determine what it means. Is Gregory making some kind of statement about religion? Is God real, or is religion just our brain telling us what we want to believe? I’m not sure, but I do know that the author lets you draw your own conclusions. There were times when even Lyda isn’t sure about Dr. Gloria, and I loved the fact that she might be a drug-induced hallucination, or she might not.
Have I convinced you yet? You can come back next month when I have my book review giveaway, and try to win a copy of Afterparty, or you could splurge right now and get your own. Or there’s that place called the library that probably has a copy too:-D Highly recommended to the nth highest recommendation. And then triple that. Did I mention I loved this book?
The nitty-gritty: A short but highly entertaining—not to mention terrifying—tale about the dangers of the deep.
I’m so happy I bought myself a copy ofThe nitty-gritty: A short but highly entertaining—not to mention terrifying—tale about the dangers of the deep.
I’m so happy I bought myself a copy of this beautiful little book from Subterranean Press. It’s a signed and numbered edition, and as far as I know, it’s the only edition available at the moment, other than the e-book. Whichever way you read it, it’s a spectacular story that accomplishes big things in a tiny little package.
I won’t give too much of the story away, because it is very short, but here’s the set-up. The Imagine Network has just commissioned a documentary on mermaids, and they’ve arranged to film aboard the cruise ship Atargatis. The plan is to take the ship out into deep water where little sea exploration has been done before, film the hired scientists doing their thing with water and chemical analysis, and have a troupe of professional mermaid “performers” standing by to add authenticity to the documentary. But as the crew and visitors drop anchor and start to explore the deep waters above the Mariana Trench, people on board start to go missing. It isn’t long before the excitement of filming turns into everybody’s worst nightmare.
For a short novella, Grant’s pacing is really good. She divides her story up into five chapters, and each one is prefaced by a blurb from an Imagine Network documentary from the year 2017, looking back on the disaster of the Atargatis and speculating on what happened. It gives the story a bit of foreshadowing and unsettles the reader. You know something bad happened—it’s explained on the first page that the entire crew was lost, but you don’t know exactly what happened until the end. Grant plants her clues carefully, spaced apart just enough to make the reader anxiously flip the pages.
The story is filled with humor as well. Grant pokes fun at the entertainment industry with lots of jokes about contract fulfillment and how documentaries are edited to create whatever story the director wants to tell, whether it’s true or not. The scientists and actors on board know that mermaids don’t really exist, and so they’ve hired a group of professional mermaids, women who wear specially made mermaid tales and perform at parties and other events. (And yes, I Googled this, and it’s a real thing!) The Blue Seas mermaids have been hired to “appear unexpectedly” on film. Obviously, the Imagine Network isn’t above a little innocent hoax or two.
Despite the short length of Rolling in the Deep, Grant digs fairly deep into her characters’ lives and desires. Yes, there is some stereotyping, especially with the nerdy scientist characters and Anne, the actress who will be hosting the documentary. But it made the story all the funnier for me, and I didn’t mind it at all.
I did love the women of the Blue Seas, who have hair colored in every shade of the rainbow and wear custom fit neoprene mermaid tails. The women love what they do, and they’re nearly jumping for joy at the opportunity to practice swimming in open waters. We get to spend just enough time with them to understand their true love of swimming as mermaids has nothing to do with acting. They understand exactly what they’ve been hired for, to pretend to be “real” mermaids, and it doesn’t stop them from having a great time—well, at least until things go terribly wrong. I really liked the idea that Grant puts two of her mermaids in wheelchairs, to show that even someone who isn’t able to walk on her own can have complete freedom of movement in the water.
When events on the Atargatis start to take a turn for the worse, things go south fast. Get ready for a good old-fashioned monster tale with plenty of blood and terror. Grant could have expanded this into a full-fledged novel if she’d wanted to, but I like it just the way it is: a short but nasty tale of “be careful what you wish for.” Trust me, after reading this story, you'll never look at mermaids the same way again. This was my first time reading Mira Grant, but it’s certainly not going to be my last. Highly recommended.
The nitty-gritty: An allegorical story about one teen’s journey toward adulthood, and all the unusual challenges she and her friends4 1/2 stars *****
The nitty-gritty: An allegorical story about one teen’s journey toward adulthood, and all the unusual challenges she and her friends must overcome.
And it makes me wonder if one day I might be able to rediscover fully the child version of myself, before things fouled themselves up, when I was a little girl with commendable manners, when my father and I were two against the world, when my striving for goodness was so natural it was like leaves falling from trees everywhere around me, when I believed sacredness was to be found in many small things like ladybugs and doll toes, when I didn’t have a murderous thought in my head, not one.
This isn’t the easiest of stories to review. There’s very little plot to talk about, for one thing. Joshua Gaylord has written a book of ideas and emotions, and in When We Were Animals he gets to the meat of what it feels like—literally—to go through puberty. It was especially poignant for me, because I happen to have a boy and a girl who are sixteen and fourteen, respectively. These are the ages when teens in Gaylord’s small town “breach,” or turn feral. During the three nights of the full moon each month (with thanks to Joss Whedon for instructing me that yes, in fact, the moon is full for three nights a month!), these teens suddenly feel the urge to run outside at night and tear off their clothes, run wild through the streets, fight and have sex with each other, and let their wild sides run completely out of control. This odd behavior lasts about a year, and then it’s gone forever. After which time, supposedly the teen has crossed the final threshold into adulthood.
The story is about a girl named Lumen, who is approaching her sixteenth birthday but who hasn’t breached yet (and fears she never will). Coincidentally, she hasn’t started her period either, so it was pretty clear that the two are connected. Lumen tells her story from two perspectives: as an adult woman looking back on her time during the breach, and her current life as a wife and mother and how the past has affected her. She’s a very interesting character, in the sense that she seems detached from most of the emotions that the other kids her age feel, probably because she's telling her story from the distance of adulthood.
Lumen faces many of the same problems that any teen would face: being accepted by your peers, dealing with bullies and peer pressure, and having that feeling deep within yourself that something wants to break free, but not knowing how to deal with it. What Gaylord has done is taken all that teen angst and given it an outlet in the form of breaching, a completely acceptable rite of passage that every teen in town must go through. I loved the feral quality to these outings under the full moon, and while there isn’t anything supernatural to breaching—it seems as if the teens literally turn into animals, but they don’t—it felt dangerous and unpredictable.
Trigger warning: there are a few uncomfortable scenes that border on rape, although in one of the scenes the boy does change his mind and stop. But even those scenes weren’t as horrific as they could be. These teens know they’re out of control, and anything done during breaching is simply part of going through the process. In one scene, one of the more unlikable characters, a boy named Blackhat Roy, goes up to Lumen after she breaches for the first time and tells her, “Now you’re fair game.” It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what Roy is talking about.
My favorite relationship is the one between Lumen and her father. Because her mother died long ago, Lumen and her father have been alone for as long as she can remember. He loves her and trusts her to always do the right thing, and I felt bad for him when his perfectly behaved daughter was inevitably caught up in the breaching madness. It’s hard to read about a parent losing faith and trust in his child, and my heart broke for both of them.
Gaylord’s prose is delightful, and I honestly kept forgetting that a man had written this story! The voice of Lumen radiates femininity, and I’m so impressed by how well a male writer stepped up to the plate and convinced me that Lumen is indeed female, with all the emotions and desires that overtake teens at that age.
When We Were Animals cast a spell over me and made me think. It made me uncomfortable at times and sad at others. I know I’ll be looking at my own children with new eyes now that I’ve read this book, watching for signs of madness, which will hopefully never come. For those readers who enjoy unusual stories, this book is highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.
The nitty-gritty: A hysterically funny Lovecraftian horror story, perfect for both teens and adults.
“What? You think I want you to go to school? ThenThe nitty-gritty: A hysterically funny Lovecraftian horror story, perfect for both teens and adults.
“What? You think I want you to go to school? Then who would entertain me? This place is stultifying. True, if there’s any news, they can tell you in school just as easily as here, but how much better to spend your time with your most beloved relative? I can teach you how to make a decent Bloody Mary.”
“You’re not a very good aunt.”
“Pardon me, but I’m fantastic. The best aunts aren’t substitute parents, they’re coconspirators.”
It’s nearly impossible to write this review without referring to another book by Daryl Gregory that I recently reviewed, We Are All Completely Fine. Harrison Squared is a prequel of sorts to WAACF, although you certainly don’t need to read one to enjoy the other, and the order that you read them in shouldn’t affect your experience either. I’ll talk more about the relationship between the two books later, but I do want to say that if I didn’t know any better, I would think these books were written by completely different authors! Gregory is a talented writer indeed, to be able to switch gears like he has in Harrison Squared.
I haven’t read H.P. Lovecraft in many years, but reading Harrison Squared brought back memories of Lovecraft’s shadowy worlds, filled with sea monsters and fish-like people. Gregory captures the tone of Lovecraft perfectly, but he adds a dimension all his own with laugh-out-loud dialog and brilliantly drawn characters. Harrison Harrison (or Harrison Squared as he calls himself) has just moved to the seaside town of Dunnsmouth with his mother Rosa, a scientist who has been awarded a grant to research the colossal squid, which she thinks lives in the icy waters of Dunnsmouth's sea. Harrison reluctantly starts school at the local Dunnsmouth Secondary School, a dank and dark stone structure with endless winding corridors and even creepier students and teachers.
But one evening when Rosa is out on the water working on her research, the boat is capsized and Rosa disappears at sea—or does she? Harrison is determined to find out the truth and get his mother back. With the help of some very unusual friends, Harrison follows the clues and uncovers a truth even bigger and more dangerous than he can imagine. It’s not safe in Dunnsmouth, especially for Harrison and his mom.
I think the biggest surprise for me was the humor in Harrison Squared. Gregory’s dialogue is so funny, and Harrison’s voice is so engaging, that I couldn’t help but tear through the pages. Harrison has had a bit of a strange life already, so he’s somewhat familiar with things that are odd. When he was three, he was out on a boat with his parents when it was attacked by a large sea monster, which ended up drowning his father and nearly killing Harrison. (Harrison lost a leg in the incident and now wears a prosthetic.) Or was it a sea monster? Harrison’s memories of that time are fuzzy to say the least.
And wow, the characters in this book! I don’t think I’ve ever run across so many well-developed and lovable secondary characters. In fact, many of them stole the show from Harrison, which is hard to do because he’s such a great character himself. I don’t want to give too much away, but I can’t write this review without mentioning Lub the fish boy, who stole my heart from the moment he opened his mouth (full of teeth!) Despite his, err, differences, Lub becomes a great friend to Harrison and helps him in more ways than one. I also adored Harrison's Aunt Sel, who takes over as his guardian after Rosa disappears. Aunt Sel’s arrival in Dunnsmouth is like a breath of fresh air, and believe me, the dank and fishy smells of town could certainly use someone like her! At first I thought, “Oh, poor Harrison! He’s got to put up with his aunt from the big city.” But she won me over, and she’ll win you over too.
Gregory adds many Lovecraft references and touches that a true HPL fan will have a blast spotting them all. I particularly loved the name of the town—Dunnsmouth—which I believe is an ode to Lovecraft’s famous short story, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. He also pays tribute to Moby Dick by having Rosa, like her counterpart Ahab, search for the illusive monster who killed her husband. Gregory begins each chapter with a line or two from the famous poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which fit perfectly with both the tone and subject matter of the story. Do you know where the expression "to wear an albatross around your neck" comes from? Well, you will after you read this book!
For me Harrison Squared at times had that magical Harry Potter feel to it, with its mysterious school and wonderfully imagined characters. I can’t find any evidence that this book is the start of a series, although a very abrupt ending (which is really the only thing I have to complain about) left me wondering if Mr. Gregory has more adventures planned for Harrison and his friends.
Which brings me back around to We Are All Completely Fine. A very important character shows up in both stories, the terrifying and deadly Scrimshander. In Harrison Squared, he’s a much more real and immediate character, but even though he’s merely referred to as someone from a character’s past in We Are All Completely Fine, he was just as terrifying. I loved both of these books, but We Are All Completely Fine is much, much darker, with a gritty violence that may turn some readers off. For those of you looking for a highly entertaining adventure with plenty of slimy creatures just waiting in the shadows and lots of mysteries to solve, then Harrison Squared is not to be missed.
Big thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book....more
The nitty-gritty: A sweet and magical story, perfect for readers ten and up.
When you set out to find the answers to your questions, you have to be preThe nitty-gritty: A sweet and magical story, perfect for readers ten and up.
When you set out to find the answers to your questions, you have to be prepared to be surprised by what you discover.
I’ve had the pleasure of reading several of Hoffman’s young adult stories—including Aquamarine, Green Angel and Indigo—and so I was curious to read her latest, which is being marketed to a slightly younger crowd, but still maintains Hoffman’s trademark magic realism. Her adult books often deal with gritty themes like abuse and death, and even her YA stories contain subjects that can be tricky for young people, like the death of a parent. But this time around, Hoffman has left out the heavy storylines and focused on something that may be closer to a ten-to-twelve year old’s experience: trying to make friends when you feel as if your life is completely abnormal.
Twig Fowler lives in an old farmhouse in Sidwell, MA with her older brother James and her mother, where they keep to themselves and tend to their large apple orchard. Ever since Twig’s mother brought them here from New York, she’s discouraged Twig from making friends or letting people into their lives. Twig’s brother, you see, is…different. He was born with wings, and he’s resigned himself to a life locked away in his house in order to keep their family secret safe.
Until the day new neighbors move in next door. Sixteen-year-old Agate and twelve-year-old Julia are everything Twig’s mom doesn’t like, but Twig is determined to make a new friend, and she and Julia click immediately. And as for James, once he gets a glimpse of the lovely Agate, he realizes how unhappy his life has been, and he begins to sneak out at night to meet with her. Meanwhile, a mysterious winged “monster” has been spotted in the woods, and random items in town start to go missing. Cryptic spray-painted messages begin to appear around town, along with a drawing of a blue monster.
Twig and Julia discover a centuries-old spell that was cast on the men in Twig’s family—hence, James’ wings—and together they decide to find a way to break the spell for good. It’s a magical summer indeed as the girls gather ingredients to break the spell and solve the mystery of the monster in the woods.
No one brings magic to life like Alice Hoffman. Reading this book took me back to my own childhood, when I actually believed in magic, and even though I’m way beyond the age group this book is written for, I got chills—the good kind!—while reading this story. Hoffman is a genius at using symbolism and recurring themes that tie everything together. And yes, she does tend to use the same imagery over and over in her books, but having read a great many of them over the years, I have come to find this comforting. In Nightbird, Hoffman uses bees, flowers, herbs, apples, feathers, and owls over and over again to cast a spell over the reader. If you’ve read Alice Hoffman before, you know exactly what I’m talking about. (And if you haven’t, you really should:-D)
Twig’s mom bakes pies and sells them in town, her own secret recipe using a very special apple called the Pink that grows in the orchard behind their house. Like many of Hoffman’s story elements, these pies are transforming and practically magic themselves, so delicious are they. I also loved the saw-whet owls that live in the woods, owls that James sometimes rescues and nurses back to health. When James goes flying at night, the owls he’s made friends with fly with him. Such a lovely and simple story element, but one that feels magical like everything else about this book.
Because this is for younger readers, Twig, James, Julia and Agate steal the show. Hoffman avoids turning adults into bad guys in this story, which I was grateful for. Several of the adult characters turned out to be favorites of mine, including Twig’s mother, a flawed woman with a terrible secret (her son James, who can never be seen in public); and Mr. Rose, the mysterious journalist who comes to town and helps Twig solve her mysteries.
I would have to call this a “kinder, gentler” Alice Hoffman story, which is perfect for ages ten and up. Nothing really terrible happens in the book, although there are plenty of mysteries to solve and a few tense moments that will have pre-teens on the edge of their seats. But as an adult reader, I clearly saw everything that was coming. Nothing surprised me about the plot, and I easily predicted every twist and turn.
But Nightbird is a simply delightful tale, full of Hoffman’s special brand of luminous and magical writing. Young readers will identify with Twig’s and James’ loneliness and their desire to make friends and be part of the world. I have not seen the finished hardcover version of this book, but I suspect it will be a lovely gem, with color illustrations and even colored ink, if the ARC is anything to go by. As with everything I've read by Alice Hoffman, Nightbird is highly recommended.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!...more
The nitty-gritty: A gorgeous and surreal world filled with broken but hopeful characters, beautifully written.
Back in her bunk, tucked in beside the mThe nitty-gritty: A gorgeous and surreal world filled with broken but hopeful characters, beautifully written.
Back in her bunk, tucked in beside the musty warmth of her bear, North fell asleep with her hands linked tight over her belly. In her dream, she was her child: tiny as a bulb of seaweed, tight as a balled fist. Above her, the beat of an enormous heart shushed and roared like waves. Through her closed eyelids, the world showed in reds and purples: the branching lines of anemones, the nodules of coral, the hard lumps of rock and mussel. Inside North was the sea. Her child had come from the sea.
When I finished reading this book, after brushing away my tears, I turned immediately to Twitter to shout out into the void. Last year’s surprise read for me was Station Eleven, and I knew right away that it was going to be BIG (I was right). I had the same feeling after reading The Gracekeepers, knowing with certainty that Kirsty Logan’s debut is something special. It may not be on everyone’s radar at the moment, but just you wait. This book is also going to be big, as in Station Eleven big, mark my words.
What does this story have that makes it so wonderful? Just a few things you might enjoy: a floating circus, a bear, birds in cages who act as grave markers for the dead, a girl with webbed fingers and toes, gender bending, subversive clowns, a sunken city, and much much more. I don’t want to tell you too much of the story, but here are the basics: North is a young girl who performs with a traveling circus. Her closest companion is her bear, with whom she does her circus act. Callanish is a gracekeeper, someone tasked with performing Restings, where the dead are buried at sea. In Logan’s eerie world, the ocean covers most of the world, with archipelagos of land few and far between. When a terrible storm tears the circus asunder, the gracekeeper Callanish meets the crew of the Circus Excalibur, and their lives begin to change forever. Secrets and lies, enemies and lovers, all meet under the bright lights of the big top, as the characters try to find their way in a world with very little hope.
I’m not sure whether The Gracekeepers can be classified as fantasy or not, since nothing magical happens at all (with the exception of one character who is not quite human, but I won’t reveal who that is!). We can assume it’s a post-apocalyptic world since the oceans have risen and buried much of the earth. I was immediately entranced by Logan’s lovely descriptions of the ocean and those who try to survive in it.
There are two different types of people in this story: landlockers, who are fortunate enough to live on land, and tend to be much better off because they can grow food; and damplings, who spend most of their lives at sea, scrounging for every scrap of food and always hungry. North and her circus friends are damplings, since their circus stage is on a boat, and they travel from island to island performing, hoping that the landlockers will love their show and shower them with food and gold.
Callanish, on the other hand, is a landlocker. Her job as a gracekeeper earns her a small parcel of land, where she tends to her graces, the tiny birds whose sole purpose is to help people grieve for their lost loved ones. In general, landlockers look down on damplings, who are not rich enough to live on land. Damplings must wear bells, like a badge of shame, when they venture onto land so the landlockers know who they are. You can substitute any destitute people of present day earth for the damplings and you’ll begin to see why I felt so sorry for them.
So many wonderful characters make up this story! North and her bear were my favorites, especially since they sleep in the same bunk together (!!). The ringmaster’s wife, a devious and jealous woman named Avalon, hates North and tries everything in her power to get rid of her and the bear. And the other members of the circus are just as strange and wonderful. The clowns—named Cash, Dough and Dosh—refuse to follow the ringmaster's rules and come up with their own risky performances.
And then there is Callanish, a lonely woman who spends her days with the dead and the grieving, tending to her graces and trying to ration the small amounts of food she gets as payment from performing a Resting. Callanish has secrets as well, one of which involves her estranged mother. Several heart-wrenching scenes between the two of them brought tears to my eyes, especially since I finished this book on Mother’s Day. When eventually the lives of the gracekeeper and the circus collide, Callanish discovers that there is more to life than being a gracekeeper.
Logan’s writing is pure joy, and I highlighted so many passages that I wanted to share in this review, that it was hard to choose just one. Her world-building was strange and sad, and the lives of the characters were harsh, yet there was so much beauty in the story. At the end, everything comes full circle, plot lines are resolved, and most of the characters find what they have been searching for. When I finished the last page, I wanted nothing more than to read The Gracekeepers again, for the first time. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof, and may differ in the final version of the book.
The nitty-gritty: A top-notch horror story with depth and emotion, beautifully written, with enough chills to keep me on edge.
Sometimes** 4 1/2 stars
The nitty-gritty: A top-notch horror story with depth and emotion, beautifully written, with enough chills to keep me on edge.
Sometimes there is a scent that precedes her appearances, less borne on the air than held tight against my face, an invisible, smothering cloth. And soaked in this cloth an odor that carries a feeling with it, particular as the past. It's the same sugary, teenaged-girl perfume that clouded the rec room parties and school gym dances of our youth, combined with something foul, something gone wrong. A neglected wound spritzed with Love's Baby Soft.
This was my first Andrew Pyper book, but it certainly won’t be my last! The Damned is a fresh take on ghost stories and life after death, and at times it reminded me of both The Lovely Bones and What Dreams May Come, although it’s completely different from either of those books. Pyper has come up with one chilling and terrifying ghost named Ash, who hitches a ride back from hell to terrorize her family. This story scared the pants off me, and if you love the kind of atmospheric horror that creeps up on you slowly, rather than the bloody slasher variety, then you will love this book.
Danny Orchard is a semi-famous author who wrote a book about his experience in “heaven” when he briefly died in a house fire but was resuscitated soon after. But unfortunately, Danny didn’t come back alone. He brought back his twin sister Ashleigh, who died in the fire with him. Ash was a disturbed girl in life, and she’s even worse as a ghost. Danny’s grown up now and has met a wonderful woman named Willa that he wants to get to know better. But Ash is determined to keep Danny from ever finding happiness, because she’s convinced he shouldn’t be alive. If Danny wants to start a new life, he’s going to have to figure out a way to get rid of Ash for good.
That’s a very brief synopsis of a rather complex story, but I didn’t want to get into too much detail, because you’re going to want to experience each surprise for yourself. Danny narrates the story and flits back and forth through time, gradually revealing what’s happening. I love this method of storytelling, which may frustrate some readers, but it works so well for a story like this with so many mysteries to unravel. Danny tells us of his near-death experience in the fire, but he later admits that it wasn’t the only time he died and went someplace else. Little by little, the reader comes to understand what a terrible and lonely life Danny is living, all because he is being haunted by his psychopath of a dead sister who will go to any lengths to keep him from any kind of lasting relationship.
The best part of the story for me was Pyper’s atmospheric descriptions of Detroit, a city that nearly becomes a character itself. After reading The Damned, I’m convinced that the best city in the world to set a horror story in has got to be Detroit (side note: Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes is set there as well). I’ve never been there, and after reading this book I’m not sure I ever want to go there. Not only do we get to experience Detroit as it is today, with its seedy, rundown neighborhoods and abandoned car factories, but Danny’s various trips to the afterlife take place in a Detroit that is a scarier and more twisted version of the real place. I don’t think I’ve ever run across a story that pulls off this kind of “duality” as well as this one.
If you’re going to write a proper horror story, then you need to have some tormented characters who suffer at the hands of an evil entity, and Pyper gives us plenty of torment in this book. It seems Danny can never live a life of happiness, because each time he starts to get close to someone, sister Ash comes along and ruins things for him. And when I say “ruins,” I mean she injures or kills the new person in Danny’s life. So he has resigned himself to a lonely existence, rather than cause harm to someone he loves.
That is until he meets Willa at a support group for people who have had near-death experiences, called “Afterlifers.” Willa is an outspoken woman with a ten-year-old son named Eddie, who has her own terrifying death experience to deal with, but she and Danny recognize something in each other, and despite his fear of Ash screwing things up, the two begin dating. I loved their relationship, mostly because Willa is such a strong woman and doesn’t scare easily. She sticks with Danny even after she sees proof of Ash’s evil. I also loved Danny’s growing relationship with Eddie, who is wise beyond his age and even saves Danny's life at one point.
And Ash. I can barely talk about her without getting goosebumps! She is the epitome of evil, a girl who is popular and beautiful on the outside, but has a twisted mind and is able to manipulate people to do the unthinkable.
If you’ve ever given any thought to what happens when we die (and who hasn’t?), I’m afraid The Damned will not offer any comfort to you, because even those souls who are “good” end up in places that aren’t necessarily considered heaven. Pyper doesn’t actually use the words “heaven” and “hell” to describe the afterworld, but readers will understand what he’s talking about without them. In this version of the afterlife, heaven and hell are inexorably entwined, and Danny, who is intimately familiar with both life and death, can easily navigate this strange territory.
The only misstep for me, and really I can hardly call it that, was an odd shift at about the half-way point of the story, when Danny decides to investigate Ash’s death, convinced that someone murdered her. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of a murder mystery, and although the horror elements were still present, the tone of the story at that point felt different. As it turns out, Danny uncovers even more horrors surrounding his sister, and this section ultimately made the story stronger.
Pyper throws in lots of small details—like Danny’s mother’s Omega watch that he brings back from the afterlife—that give this story so much depth. A final showdown (you know there had to be one!) between Danny and Ash takes place in a location that is not only poignant but somehow brings the realms of the living and the dead together. The Damned is a perfect book for fans of horror stories, but it will resonate with many types of readers, and therefore I recommend it to everyone!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy! Quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
The nitty-gritty: A folktale-like story with an odd cast of dead characters, lots of humorous moments, but not enough of a plot to keep me interested.The nitty-gritty: A folktale-like story with an odd cast of dead characters, lots of humorous moments, but not enough of a plot to keep me interested.
While reading Dead Boys, I realized after only a couple of chapters that I wasn’t going to agree with most of the glowing reviews I’ve seen for this book. And I’m not sure why. It’s got all the elements for a successful story: a fantastical setting, interesting characters, and writing that (while not my favorite style) is well done. Perhaps it was the silliness of the set-up—a dead man named Jacob is a “preservationist” in the underworld, stitching up and fixing the decaying bodies of the dead. Or it could have been the language itself, a very formal style that often felt like something right out of a Shakespearean play:
“Thy doom drops from above, body-robbers!” cried the head, bouncing past Remington’s feet. “Draw near, that I might gnaw thy hated ankles.”
(Seriously, the entire book was written this way.)
But mostly, it was the absurd humor and a plot that I quickly began to lose interest in, that had me skimming chapters near the end. Dead Boys is the story of a journey, and yet it felt as if the characters were never getting anywhere. And I’m disappointed because I really thought I was going to love this book.
Imagine this, if you will: Jacob Campbell is a corpse who lives in Dead City and patches up the decomposing dead, corpses that wash up on the banks of the Lethe river. But as much as he’s more or less happy being dead, he’s heard tell of a “Living Man” who was still alive when he crossed into Dead City, and Jacob is anxious to find him, in the hopes of someday reaching the land of the living himself.
He’s joined on his journey by a boy named Remington, who has a bird nesting in his skull, and a dubious character named Leopold who may or may not be trustworthy. Together they navigate a strange and decrepit landscape, full of armies of attacking corpses and huge, shifting piles of debris. Not to mention plenty of dead body parts falling off or getting hacked off and put back on again. Yep, this is one crazy book, people!
Now, I did enjoy parts of Dead Boys, especially the way Squailia describes the world of Dead City. The river Lethe runs through the city, washing up bodies of the newly deceased. Everywhere are piles of garbage and detritus, mostly composed of bones and decomposing flesh. Jacob’s vocation is interesting, although disgusting and ridiculous! His job is to try to make the dead appear more alive, by fixing their parts that are coming off, a sort of taxidermist for the dead. I found the idea both hilarious and disturbing at the same time, and believe me, it just kept getting weirder the further into the story I got.
My favorite character was young Remington, so named because he shot out the back of his skull with a gun (OK, I’m a little fuzzy on the details, but I think it went like that!) Remington has a little black bird that has taken up residence in his empty skull and acts as Remington’s eyes when he flies. As strange as that sounds, I adored Remington and his little bird companion.
Most of the characters are missing body parts, like a headless couple dubbed “Adam and Eve.” And then there’s Etienne, the Living Man of legend, who is now no more than a head tacked to the wall of a tavern. And in the middle of it all, Jacob is there to help the dead regain some of their dignity by repairing their broken parts. There are a lot of body parts being lost, and then reattached, and then lost again. One particularly disturbing scene deals with a penis swap (yes, you read that correctly!). Why the dead still have penises is anybody’s guess, but I think you have to appreciate a special brand of humor in order to laugh at things like this. (And I know those readers are out there, in fact, I’ll bet some of them are reading this review right now!)
And so the characters trudge through a dangerous land that could resemble a Bosch painting. Somewhere among all the heads and limbs and penises flying around, is a story. But for me, it was buried too far under all the bones of the dead to make sense. I know one thing for sure: when I die, I certainly hope I don’t wind up here. The dead in Dead Boys are a sorry lot indeed, roaming through a dismal landscape and barely getting anywhere. For those readers who appreciate absurdity, gross humor and an author who delights in playing with language, this may be just the book for you.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote is taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.
The nitty-gritty: An outrageous, pulpy, bloody, dimension-hopping story that by turns made me laugh and cringe, and had me running to Google more thanThe nitty-gritty: An outrageous, pulpy, bloody, dimension-hopping story that by turns made me laugh and cringe, and had me running to Google more than once.
I turned my attention back to the cliff. The slope had been hidden by thick vegetation, but now that I stood on its edge, I could see a deep, narrow valley below us. But the gorge wasn’t what caught my attention. What did were the two opponents who were fighting on the valley floor. I had seen many bizarre things since coming to the Lost Level, but it was at that moment that the full otherworldly strangeness of my situation hit me full fold. Below us, engaged in a fierce battle, were a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a giant robot.
So. Much. Fun! I had a blast reading The Lost Level, which as the author states in his Acknowledgements is an homage to the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard (among others). Keene takes every crazy idea and pulp fiction trope he can think of and crams it into less than 200 pages, and the result is a very crowded but completely entertaining story. Keene’s idea of a dimension in space called the Lost Level, where all the “lost” things of the universe wind up, gives him free rein to do just about anything, and he takes full advantage of that idea.
Aaron Pace is the narrator of the story, a man who fancies himself a practitioner of the occult and has figured out a ritual that opens doorways into other dimensions. One day, peeking through one such doorway, he spies a lush and tropical vista that beckons him to cross over. But once there, he looks back, only to find that the doorway has vanished. Aaron is now trapped in the Lost Level, the one world where no traveler can ever leave.
As he wanders through the fascinating but increasingly dangerous land, he manages to rescue a beautiful woman named Kasheena and her Wookie-like companion Bloop from a deadly race of snake people. Together they set out towards Kasheena’s home, where the wiseman of her village might be able to help Aaron get home again. But they will have to face many obstacles before they reach their destination. . .
The Lost Level, for all its non-stop action and fight scenes, gets off to a slow start, mostly because our narrator Aaron is alone almost up to the 25% mark. He’s writing down his story in a journal he finds on an abandoned school bus, as he introduces us to how he came to be here and what wonders he’s seen so far. The fact that there isn’t any dialog to move the story forward worried me a bit, but once he runs into Kasheena and Bloop things really get going, and the story moves at high velocity all the way to the end.
Like I said before, Keene adds everything but the kitchen sink to his story, including dinosaurs, killer grass, aliens, robots, giant killer slugs, and tiny birds that can clean the flesh off a body in seconds flat. He uses the mystique of the Bermuda Triangle to explain some of the odd things that pop up in the Lost Level, and I was curious enough a couple of times to actually hit up Google to see if octophants and Xerum 525 (red mercury) were actual things. (They are!)
If you’re going to read this book—and you really should!—you will need to put your feminist side in a box and lock it up tight, because in order to enjoy this story you have to remember that Keene is playing with tropes, especially when it comes to the female role in the pulp stories of the ‘20s and ‘30s. Take the lovely Kasheena, for example. Seeing her for the first time causes Aaron to become “awestruck” by her beauty. And it’s not only her “luxuriant chestnut and auburn colored hair” and “bronzed skin” that cause this reaction. Kasheena, you see, is completely naked when Aaron meets her, and remains so for the rest of the book, except for a tiny loincloth! If I hadn’t been laughing so hard at the notion of a gorgeous naked female running around fighting robots and dinosaurs, I would have been horrified. Luckily, I recognized what Keene was trying to accomplish, and I enjoyed Kasheena despite her unfortunate nudity.
The author has great fun with over-the-top violence, and he managed to gross me out more than once. Unfortunately, Aaron’s voice is rather dry and matter-of-fact, and so all the hacking off of heads and stabbing through eyeballs with swords felt a bit dry and unemotional. But Keene certainly knows how to keep a story moving, and our intrepid explorers are faced with one impossible situation after another, with barely time off for Aaron and Kasheena to stop and have sex (which they do a lot).
I can’t leave out one of my favorite characters, Bloop, who is a hairy, dog-like creature that walks upright and can only mutter the word “Bloop!” He reminded me of Chewbacca, since he turned out to be a loyal friend to Aaron and Kasheena, as well as a vicious killer when he needed to be.
A mysterious underground world is alluded to, but never explained, and I hope the author decides to write about it in a sequel. I also thought the story ended very abruptly, but luckily, Brian Keene explains in his Afterword that he is planning a multi-volume series, which makes me very happy. The Lost Level may not be great literature, but it was everything I expected and more, and I can’t wait to go back.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy!
The nitty-gritty: Top-notch writing and storytelling, a gripping and disturbing thriller, with finely nuanced characters that surprised me in the bestThe nitty-gritty: Top-notch writing and storytelling, a gripping and disturbing thriller, with finely nuanced characters that surprised me in the best possible way.
In the end, forgiveness is like letting go of a rabid cougar you had by the tail.
“This is America. Sex is worse than violence.” – Detective Gabi Versado
After reading so many great reviews of Broken Monsters, I finally pushed aside a toppling pile of review books and settled down to read it. And I’m so glad I did. This book surprised me, and then kept surprising the further I read. The deeper I got into the story, and the more layers I peeled back, the better it was. I am in love with Lauren Beukes, and I’m making it my mission to catch up on her back-list as soon as I can. This story is so much more than a police procedural/murder mystery. Yes, there is a seriously fucked up man who is killing people in bizarre and disturbing ways. And there is a tenacious detective who won’t give up until he’s caught.
But there is also an ensemble cast of characters, each with intricately detailed back-stories. Beukes could have chosen any of these characters to write a story about, so carefully and lovingly does she bring them to life. You may not like them all, but each one is a necessary piece of the puzzle. I turned the pages quickly when the action heated up, but I savored the passages where Beukes develops her characters. By the end of the story I seriously wanted to hang out with Gabi, sit down and have coffee with TK, and take Layla under my wing. (I have a fifteen-year-old myself, and boy did Layla’s story scare me to death!)
You won’t have to wonder for very long who the killer is in Broken Monsters. You’ll figure it out within a few chapters, as you are meant to do. Set in the gritty city of Detroit, the story is told through multiple points of view: Gabi, single mom to Layla and a dedicated detective who never gives up; fifteen-year-old Layla, who gets into some serious trouble along with her best friend Cas; TK, a reformed criminal who’s homeless but tries to help others like himself; Jonno, a middle-aged journalist looking for his big break; and Clayton Broom, a disturbed artist who is slowly unraveling.
When a grisly body is discovered—the top of a young boy fused to the legs of a deer—Gabi and her team go into high gear to solve the murder. Another body is discovered soon after, and Gabi begins to suspect a serial killer is at work. In the midst of trying to uncover clues, Gabi’s daughter Layla is starting to spin out of control. Layla and her friend Cas start chatting online with a pedophile, which leads them to make some very poor choices. Jonno and his new girlfriend Jen begin working on a video about Detroit’s underground art scene, but unintentionally end up in the thick of the murder investigation.
Beukes builds tension slowly, and it takes a while before all the puzzle pieces start to fit together. Eventually the characters’ lives begin to intersect in unexpected ways, but honestly, the journey was just as good as getting to the end. Each character has his own mini-story that runs parallel to the murder investigation, and Beukes weaves all these elements together seamlessly. I’ve heard other readers talk about what a skillful writer she is, and now I can see why. Not only is she juggling multiple storylines, but she’s done a bang-up job of it!
I’ve never been to Detroit myself, but in Broken Monsters, the city is just as much a character as Gabi or Layla. Beukes (who lives in South Africa) has obviously spent some time there, since the descriptions are so vivid and practically jump off the page. I loved some of the local slang, like the description of “Detroit diamonds”—the locals’ term for the broken car window glass that litters the city. Beukes doesn’t shy away from the less savory parts of the city—which is to say most of them—like poverty, the prevalence of crime and drugs, and my favorite, the sad and eerie abandoned factories that seem to be everywhere. But there is beauty in the city as well, an unexpected art scene that thrives among the destruction in back alleys.
The story is also about our obsession with social media and how damaging it can be. Jonno is a journalist who wants his fifteen minutes of fame, and he eventually gets it, but maybe not in quite the way he expected to. Beukes shows how internet news stories spread and change and grow into entities that cannot be contained. She cautions us about the potential dangers of social media sites, especially for children, but she doesn't preach.
Throughout the story, chalk doorways begin to pop up near the murder scenes, and we’re given hints that something supernatural may be going on. Honestly, as much as I love supernatural in my novels, I would have been fine without it. But I did love the way you couldn't really tell if those elements were real, or if they were all in the mind of our unreliable narrator.
This book is a stand-alone, but I dearly hope that the author decides to write more about these characters, so much did I come to love them. In any case, I guarantee that I’ll be reading another Lauren Beukes story very soon.
Big thanks to Mulholland Books for supplying a review copy.
The nitty-gritty: A glorious, intricate fantasy with strong horror elements, that drew me in and held me spellbound.
Next door, WensaWow. 4 1/2 stars.
The nitty-gritty: A glorious, intricate fantasy with strong horror elements, that drew me in and held me spellbound.
Next door, Wensa would be cooking chestnuts and dried plums and carrots, with a slab of tender beef, to bring over, and Kasia—Kasia would be there, after all. Kasia would be rolling the beautiful fine senkach cake on its spindle before the fireplace, pouring on the next layer of batter at each turn to make the pine-tree spikes. She had learned to make it when we were twelve: Wensa had traded away the lace veil she had been married in, twice her height, to a woman in Smolnik, in exchange for teaching Kasia the recipe. So that Kasia would be ready to cook for a lord.
I’ve read many glowing reviews of Uprooted in the past few weeks, and mine is just one more to add to the list. This story was everything I love in a book and more: beautiful writing that doesn’t bog down the story, a fantasy world more strange and terrifying and magical than I could ever imagine, and characters I loved immediately, even before I got to know them properly. This is my first Naomi Novik book, but it’s certainly not the first book she’s written. She’s published eight books in her Temeraire series, with a ninth one on the way, and with at least ten published books under her belt, you can tell she has finely honed her craft. Novik is a special writer who really knows how to bring words to life. Every description, every bit of imagery, each emotion a character feels—all are carefully placed in the story and woven together with meticulous care. It’s rare to come across a story where each element is of the highest skill, and I’m so happy to have found this novel.
Although the story is complex, I’ll give you the basics—although I won’t reveal too much, because it’s best to go into Uprooted without too much information. Agnieszka lives in the small village of Dvernik at the edge of the Wood, a dark and dangerous place where people sometimes get lost, but rarely do they ever come out again. The village is watched over by a wizard nicknamed the Dragon, who ventures down from his high tower once every ten years to hand-pick one of the village’s seventeen-year-old girls, who he takes to his tower to live for the next ten years, until it’s time to select the next girl. No one is really sure what happens to these girls, only that after their ten years is up, they leave the village, never to return. Even so, the people of Dvernik understand that giving up one of their own is their tribute, and in exchange, the Dragon protects them from the terrible Wood.
But on the day Agnieszka is standing with her peers, waiting for the Dragon to make his selection, he unexpectedly passes up her friend Kasia, the most beautiful girl in Dvernik and the one everyone expected would be picked. Instead, he chooses Agnieszka, who is immediately whisked away to the tower. Meanwhile, threats of war between the two lands of Polnya and Rosya are brewing, and the Wood continues to encroach on the land, bringing with it a terrible corruption that could destroy everyone. It’s up to Agnieszka and the Dragon to stop both threats, but is their magic strong enough to face the horrible Wood?
Where to begin? Novik’s imagination is never-ending. Just when I thought I’d read the most wonderful and creative idea, she’d top herself and come up with something even more amazing. From the magical Spindle river that runs through the village, to the Dragon’s sentinels, hovering insect-like things that he uses as spies, to evil books, Uprooted is chock-full of magical goodness. Novik’s magic system is wonderful too. I loved the simplicity of conjuring magic by speaking words, which Sarkan (the Dragon’s actual name) attempts to teach Agnieszka. One of the first things he teaches her is how to change her soiled and ripped clothing by uttering one word, a word that produces an elaborate gown. But my favorite magic was when Sarkan and Agnieszka blend their magic together to create something stronger than either one could make alone.
Which brings me to the characters. I’ve heard other bloggers talk about how swoonworthy Sarkan is, and they are absolutely right! He starts out as an ass—in fact, if I’m being completely honest, he’s an ass through most of the story—but there’s something about him that tugged at me. He treats Agnieszka poorly, always calling her stupid and complaining about how disheveled she always seems to be. But I could tell, underneath his gruff manner, that he was starting to care for her. It’s almost as if he’s in denial, that a plain girl like her could affect a powerful wizard, and that denial felt completely honest and real to me.
And get ready for some sexytimes, folks! Yep, this may be a fairy tale on the outside, but it’s an adult fairy tale, and Novik has written one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read. And by “best” I mean “real.” The dialog, the situation the two find themselves in, it all just worked.
I loved many of the other characters in this book, including Agnieszka’s best friend Kasia and a witch named Alosha, who has forged a sword that can kill anything. But the star of the show and “best character” award has to go to the Wood, the fantastically creepy and terrifying forest where nothing good ever happens. Uprooted is just as much horror story as it is fantasy, and the Wood harbors some very scary things. It also infiltrates people and objects in order to spread its corruption to the village. Think The Exorcist and Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
I did take a half star off my rating because the pacing really slowed down for me in one spot, when Agnieszka and Sarkan are separated for a good portion of the story. Agnieszka winds up at the palace, and the goings on at court weren’t nearly as interesting to me as the times when the two characters are together in Sarkan’s tower. But it was a minor issue and nothing that should keep anyone away from this story.
Near the end we finally discover why Sarkan takes a girl every ten years, and it’s not what you think. We also discover the mystery behind the Wood, which I loved. And if you're wondering about the title, well, you'll discover several layers of meanings there. Novik combines so many different elements—fairy tales, political intrigue, mystery, romance and horror—and makes it all work together beautifully. And I’m so happy this is a standalone. By the end, you’ll understand that the author has told us everything we need to know about these characters and this world. Even the last line of the book is perfectly timed, and I felt a deep satisfaction, and shed a few tears of joy, when I turned the last page. Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ in the final version of the book.