This review originally appeared on Narrative Investigations
I think that many of the readers for this book will have already heard of the "12 Dancing PThis review originally appeared on Narrative Investigations
I think that many of the readers for this book will have already heard of the "12 Dancing Princesses" story in some form or another and while the book doesn't hide that inspiration it's not overly faithful to it either. The story is from the viewpoint of the girls, not the father or a dashing prince (there's a lack of princes in general in this book) and in some ways has a more credible start to the story. The versions I remember of the story were told not by the girls but by an outsider which served to make the princesses mysterious but ultimately without reason for their actions, they were bored and rebellious but had lives filled with basically anything they could want. Here the girls are locked away and completely isolated from the world, it's no wonder that they're sneaking out every night that they can and that this is the only way Jo can keep them from running away into a world they're woefully unprepared for altogether.
The story also manages to give each of the twelve girls, plus side characters, their own personalities and motivations which is quite a feat. There were still points where I had to think for a moment to remember which sister was which but, given that the girls themselves encourage people to accidentally mix them up and that Jo is the only one with regular scenes all by herself, I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. Valentine groups the girls together quite a bit to make it easier to characterize all dozen of them and one of the easiest ways to show off a character's personality is to make them interact with a large number of other characters, it feels like smart writing and not like a shortcut (especially since this isn't a Song of Ice and Fire sized book). I similarly liked the detail she put in the setting, not in descriptions of clothing and make-up but the tone of the speakeasies where the girls go to and the atmosphere in their lives. It both does and doesn't feel like it's own fairy tale, on the one hand it seems too well-grounded with the very real fears the girls have but on the other hand the world is so detached from the reader (by dint of being 90 odd years ago) that it manages to capture that timeless feeling of a fairy tale as well....more
This review was originally published on Narrative Investigations and concerns the audio book edition
I feel as though The Lost Sun was a stronger bookThis review was originally published on Narrative Investigations and concerns the audio book edition
I feel as though The Lost Sun was a stronger book than this one since I was left feeling a little disappointed as I finished this book. Lost Sun had the advantage of being the first book in a series so it was able to not only set up an on-going mystery but to also tell a stand-alone story focusing on Soren which didn't quite happen here. In some ways Strange Maid is also a stand alone story since the main part of it is about Signy's Beowulf-esque hero's journey but the story is hampered by the fact that it has to wait for Baldur to vanish and reappear before the plot can truly get rolling which I believe was around the half-way point. I'm a bit worried about the overarching story that's emerging for the series, involving Freya's manipulations of fate, since it's not very compelling so far since it's rather confusing. We still have no idea why she's doing moving these characters around and I can't even find out how long this series is so it could be a long time before that finally makes itself clear (I do expect the answer to be "Ragnarok" but that alone isn't a motivation). While it worked well with the first book, here it just seemed to hamper the flow of the book and made Signy's journey seem oddly, not realistically, paced. I will admit that the fact that I remember next to nothing about Beowulf did not help me here, thank goodness for characters who explicitly point out their strange similarities, but while I didn't dislike this book I did walk away from it feeling like it could have been done better.
And, despite how much I enjoy listening to audio books, I feel as if I don't appreciate the world-building and other small details as much. I remember really liking the cultural differences between our world and the United States of Asgard in the first book but here I almost didn't notice them or felt like they were making the book take too long (the audio book version is 10-12 hours). I did like this book as an audio book, Holloway had a nice voice which seemed to work well for Signy but I did feel like she overused an inauthentic-sounding Southern accent for some of the characters and did struggle to tell some of them apart in the later part of the book when there were simply tons of characters being constantly introduced.
It's a little hard to tell but it looks like the next book in the series is out already (Gratton's own site doesn't mention it or how many books this series is contracted for) and that there's a collection of short stories with some connecting characters I should probably pick up first so I plan to get to those as soon as my library gets them. In the meantime, if anyone here is a fan of this book I will also recommend The Story of Owen and vice versa, both of them take a decidedly old-fashioned approach to troll and dragon hunting and the importance of bards when doing so....more
This review was originally posted on Narrative Investigations
As I seem to say every time I talk about Milford's books, I truly love her word-craftingThis review was originally posted on Narrative Investigations
As I seem to say every time I talk about Milford's books, I truly love her word-crafting and it really stands out as a unique style amongst all the books I read. And, as seems to happen every time, I didn't think to grab any examples of the book while I had it so I can't be as precise about it as I would like which is an ironic shame. To put it simply, all authors care about what words they use but most of them try to make them unobtrusive, to not remind the reader that this is a book in front of them but Milford does, she shows the characters' thoughts and then guides the reader into thinking other things about the settings and situations that the characters within the story would never have come up with. She's careful with tone and overall mood, much more so than the current style of middle grade/young adult writing and it almost gives her books a fairy tale like flair to them. And every time I read her books I almost want to confuse her of creating too safe, too quaint of a world, where smugglers bring in silly things like ballpoint pens and seed bulbs, and every time there's a sharp rebuttal from the book, a mention of smuggled weapons and an explanation of a very strict customs committee, that reminds me that no, this is a complicated world but that part does not matter here. Very rarely do you get a feel for the setting beyond the characters' immediate lives, especially outside of high fantasy or dramatic science fiction, but Milford has included just enough that it feels like there are two worlds in this story, the larger world and the world of the Greenglass House.
I did have two problems with this book, thankfully they aren't deal breakers for recommending it but still sufficiently large enough to annoy me. One is that Milo and Meddy play a role-playing game while exploring the house, it's not a full-fledged larp but they create some characters, some backstory, and then map out the house, that part was fine if a bit complex for something a pair of kids to think of on their own. My problem is that Milo is introduced in the first few pages to be someone who worries a lot, someone who likes things to be just so and is grumpy about change, I am exactly the same way so the idea that he could just ignore that and not have it leak over into his character was unbelievable. His character does slip a few times but never in that way and I would have liked to have seen that, I felt like Milford didn't get just how important routine is to that kind of person and what kinds of situations it takes to break that. I like his character otherwise, he was very easy to connect with because of his faults and I liked that he's an adopted, Chinese character and how that's only a part of his life, although Meddy came off a little flatter I will admit that's a symptom of the story only diving deeper into her character at the very end.
My other problem is that the eventual villain of the story was not a very satisfying on. On the one hand it made sense, the story had sufficiently convinced me that none of the other characters were the ones who were sabotaging things and meant other characters harm but the villains motivations were just, too fictional for me. In real life life is strange, my family's motto is practically "fact is stranger than fiction" but whenever something weird happens (in your personal life or the news), you file it away in your mind as "this happened but it's not the normal thing to happen" so it's still surprising. Therefore, in fiction we still expect a modicum of realism unless the story has telegraphed that this is a time when non-normal events happen and happen often which just wasn't the case here. If this had been Milford's other books then I would have expected strange things since they had more fantastical settings but even that wouldn't have solved my problem here, the villain is motivated by petty revenge and it just didn't come off well. Thankfully this only occupies the very end of the book but it still left me a bit grumpy (it also doesn't quite explain why there were so many guests at the same time, at least half of them are connected but several other people aren't and it's a bit odd in retrospect)....more
This review was originally posted on Narrative Investigations
There's a sort of wistfulness to the story which is very characteristic of British childrThis review was originally posted on Narrative Investigations
There's a sort of wistfulness to the story which is very characteristic of British children's literature that goes back to the early 1900s but seems to have died out with Harry Potter's more modern popularity of the 90s and in splitting up children's literature into the more specialized middle grade and young adult. I remember seeing this wistfulness in books like some of Diana Wynne Jones' earlier books and The Dark is Rising series, it was a stylistic leaning and often reflected in the actual story where the characters would come of age and leave behind a more innocent childhood, leaving the mostly absent narrator would feel both glad and sad for them. It doesn't work in every story, I feel like there's this general glorification of innocence when talking about pre WWI/II since the world was hardly innocent then, but it works well in this story since it's not really a metaphor for the world, it's connected to the characters and more strongly to the story within the story.
I'm actually glad that this review got delayed since I otherwise would not have known that the story that Uncle Peregine tells is a version of the "The Princes in the Tower" (Edward and Richard) who were imprisoned just after The War of the Roses (thank you Stuff You Missed In History Class!). I once again admire Hartnett's restraint in not making this story, and the ghosts that the girls encounter, clear-cut similes for the girls lives but rather leaves it as an intersection between the real and the fictional. I believe that the girls really did meet the ghosts, there was nothing in the way the story was written to suggest otherwise, and the more important part is that the girls think they met them as well, that they are living (ish) proof of what Cecily's uncle was cautioning them against, that power can be a great thing or a terrible thing and to remember those caught up without it. That part of the story is much more of a metaphor for World War II than the wistfulness I mentioned and this story is some of the best writing in the book, it works on many different levels and wouldn't have felt out of place in an adult novel just as it didn't feel out of place in a book about children.
It's interesting to see just what three types of characters Hartnett chose for this story. There is Jeremy, the brother who seems to be growing up the right way for the wrong reason; he's motivated by old-fashioned ideas of honor and chivalry so he will be someone who does great things but it's not out of the personal devotion and dedication that we ascribe to truly great people in the world so he comes off as cold instead of inspiring. May is someone who the reader wants to be, a little quiet at first but observant and bold, she is the adventurous one whose been cast into a scary situation and will make the best of it on her own, someone who isn't anti-social but who would rather strike out on her own than rely on the people around her. And Cecily is the person the reader probably is, she's very much a 12 year old where she says something insightful every now and then (that she doesn't even recognize the importance of ) but she's more likely to be a selfish and hasty, a bit scared of adventures that she's not fully in control of and bossy when she is. She doesn't grow up bad however, the story suggests that she too grows up to be an ordinary, happy person despite these early shortcomings since these are things that every kid goes through, not traits they will necessarily cling to later in life which I feel like a lot of stories forget when they try to create character personality conflicts....more
This review was originally published on Narrative Investigations
I would like to note here that I didn't get the title, would have worked much better fThis review was originally published on Narrative Investigations
I would like to note here that I didn't get the title, would have worked much better for Earth Girl, since the Earth Star is the name of one of the awards Jarra receives, but here it seems like Edwards is trying too hard to make a thematic, naming sequence.
Moving onto something actually important, as was the case in Earth Girl, this book lacks traditional, external conflicts since every large force opposing Jarra is unchangeable. She's handicapped, she will never leave Earth, therefore she will never be able to change everyone's perception of the handicapped, and you can tell that on some level she's fine with this. She loves Earth's history and even though her original goal was to shock her classmates by revealing she's an "ape" the story showed that desire as one where she wasn't fully confident about herself and she now has the confidence. She's still not quite happy when someone else suddenly reveals this but she's now focused on smaller, more important things in her life which is a perfectly fine narrative choice to make and my statement from the first review still stands: I like that this is a true utopia and by eliminating traditional "large" conflicts (like evil overlords) the story is able to focus on slightly different conflicts than usual which is a rather fun change of pace.
However, while the character development seemed just a bit shaky in the first book it seems just as shaky in this second book which is bad, by this point the characters risk feeling very two-dimensional and in retrospect have oddly stunted emotions. There are several points in the book where Jarra really should get angry and doesn't, it's supposed to come off as a mature move for her, that she's putting aside personal feelings for the greater good, but instead it feels as if all of the "good" characters are perfect and even when they make a questionable move it's the "right" thing to do so of course the other characters can't get mad at them! And Jarra's actual moments of bad thinking, as the other characters are quick to point out, are so strange as to be irrational, not out of character (since she does it often enough to be in-character) but it doesn't quite work. I think that Edwards was going for a bit of an action hero with Jarra, she's daring, intelligent, and while she mostly follows the rules she will break them but it's okay since that will turn out for the best in the long run which isn't the kind of character you should have in a second book if you're trying to have character development. And all of the reoccurring characters from the first book have either been side-lined or are even flatter, Fian's role in the story at points it's explicitly said to be her boyfriend and while it's nice that the story says it and acknowledges it that doesn't make the writing any better.
And yet, despite the fact that it has these pretty serious flaws, I liked this book. It's an optimistic, fun, "what-if" look at the future that we so rarely get, heck I was reading it to and from Interstellar and certainly preferred it's warm view of the future where humanity has problems but not disasters to Interstellar's very bleak view of human nature. I won't call it a guilty pleasure since I don't feel guilty at all that I've found a series that fills a void in my sci-fi reading but I do wish it was stronger so that I could recommend it without reservations. And to touch on the actual plot for just a moment, that aliens have in fact attempted to contact Earth and that humans are just now realizing it, I thought that Edwards handled that plot line remarkably well. I liked the combination of the fact that aliens did observe Earth but that they must have come from so far away that it's almost a moot point a nice touch, even though these books don't dive into deep technical explanations they're among the hardest sci-fi I've come across in YA fiction. Honestly I felt that the human reaction to this, shorts bit of sheer panic and then lots of downtime with planning and waiting, is probably exactly what will happen if we ever find another life, intelligent or not. I don't know if this plot thread comes back in the third book but as soon as I can convince one of my library systems to get a copy of the book (which only seems to exist on Amazon US as a paperback with no publishing date yet it has reviews!) I will certainly be back for more of this flat character, distinctly realized setting series. ...more