Did not finish (DNF). Beautifully written but it reminded me entirely too much of a person and a situation that makes me sad and uncomfortable, so I d...moreDid not finish (DNF). Beautifully written but it reminded me entirely too much of a person and a situation that makes me sad and uncomfortable, so I did not enjoy this for personal reasons.
Also, I was upset to get more then 2/3 of the way through it and discover a detailed sex scene: no thank you. I do not enjoy reading about other people having sex; it feels voyeuristic to me. I hope this is not the beginning of a new trend in YA. (less)
I bought a copy of this young adult fantasy (and devoured it) because:
1) "gargoyles" was mentioned in a review, as in "Gargoyles had been native repti...moreI bought a copy of this young adult fantasy (and devoured it) because:
1) "gargoyles" was mentioned in a review, as in "Gargoyles had been native reptiles once" and gargoyles have definitely been underutilized in fantasy literature, in my opinion
2) reptiles - sweeeeeetttt!!! (so underappreciated!) (says the girl who loves pet lizards. And the Geico gecko)
3) manipulating time never fails to make me prick my ears
4) this cover. Look at the shimmery threads weaving around the title. MUST KNOW MORE ABOUT THE THREADS.
5) I read the sample chapters first and was so hooked, so very much hooked I must have gills. I fell in love with Kai on the first page when she says this:
A shoulder smacked against mine on the sidewalk. I didn't bother checking my pockets. They were already empty. But sometimes I left little notes in them I thought might amuse a pickpocket: "Try me again tomorrow. I forgot my diamonds at home" or "Might have better luck with that guy", alongside a scribbled arrow. Well, they amused me, anyway.
6) I kind of missed this part of the blurb at first, but by chapter 2, I was deeply impressed by the genuine brother-sister love between Kai and her older adopted brother, Reev.
When Kai was eight, she was found by Reev on the riverbank, and her “brother” has taken care of her ever since. Kai doesn’t know where her ability [to maniplate threads of time] comes from—or where she came from. All that matters is that she and Reev stay together, and maybe one day move out of the freight container they call home.
The ties between Kai and Reev run deep and strong through out the story, and explode at the ending into something breath taking and heart breaking. The ending! Whoa. Such a good ending. And all I can give is just this obscure hint: if you've happened to have read Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett, there are a few similar mythical characters that appear. To say which mythology would give too much away).
But in addition to the stellar beginning and ending, the middle parts of the book keep up a good pace, too. I caught a fun steampunk feel from the walled city Kai and Reev live in, especially the mechanical beasts that people ride:
On the cobblestone road, riders steered enormous Grays in the shape of long-extinct animas: creatures with three foot horns, lumbering feet, spiny backs, or long slender necks that bobbed as they moved. Their massive chests glowed in two spots, indicating they needed two energy stones.
And then there are the gargoyles. Loved the creepy/beautiful scenes at the top of the spiral staircase:
The gargoyle touched its nose to G-10's knuckles, and then bobbed its head, its tongue flicking out to lick his fingers. It was almost... cute.
(Really, lizard head-bobs are adorable. Trust me). I hope the gargoyles play a larger role in the sequel... they have so much potential. They reminded me of the flying lizards in the movie Avatar (without the wings, and a little creepier in this story).
One last thing: the love interest, Avan. I loved the slow, quiet development between Avan and Kai, and just have to share this little tidbit about him and his tattoo:
Avan’s tattoo of a tree: “I got the trunk and the branches done when I moved out of the shop. The tree had one leaf. Kind of like… the start of something new.” He rubbed his neck and shifted so that he was turned away from me. He actually seemed embarrassed. “Something good, I mean. I figured I would add more leaves as… well, as things changed.”
So the Avan/Kai romance was good, but what will really stick in my mind about this book (that you don't see very often so well done as here) was the brother-sister relationship. Here's one of my favorite quotes in the whole book:
Reev had felt terrible. He promised not to be so rough, and I told him to shove his promise in the river because nobody put restrictions on my brother, not even my brother. It made more sense in my head.
And one last little but poignant touch that shows how much big brother Reev meant to Kai:
I used to press my fingertip against my pointy chin as if I could imprint a cleft there like Reev’s.
I cried the first time I read this book. And the second. The pictures are poignant and beautiful and I could read this book to my little girls every n...moreI cried the first time I read this book. And the second. The pictures are poignant and beautiful and I could read this book to my little girls every night without complaining.(less)
As horse crazy as I am, I've known about Przewalski's horses pretty much my whole life, but never thought they were very interesting besides the singl...moreAs horse crazy as I am, I've known about Przewalski's horses pretty much my whole life, but never thought they were very interesting besides the single fact that they are the only true wild horse - never domesticated... versus mustangs which are descended from domesticated horses. I never gave thought to WHY these horses have never been domesticated ("they're too cunning to be domesticated") which this books explains.
This is a magnificent, action-filled and heart-filled story, SET IN UKRAINE!!! (how cool is that!) along with some fascinating history about these rarest horses in the world and a good bit of WWII history mixed in as well.
But the story also has an almost fairytale quality to it, at times: a scary Grimm fairytale or Baba Yaga feel. Or maybe it's because you can see, in the midst of war and famine, where the story of Hansel and Gretel and the witch could have come from real life and not just imagination.
The characters took a bit of warming up to, as did the unusual style of this book. It starts with a flashback, and the beginning involves a lot of telling with a bit of random dialogue thrown in to balance things out. So it didn't hook me immediately, but a few chapters in, I was hooked in fiercely.
The book alternates between the point of view of Max, the gamekeeper of the Ukrainian wildlife sanctuary at Askaniya-Nova during World War II (the sanctuary still exists to this day); and Kalinka, a young orphaned Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis after her entire family was murdered in Dnepropetrovsk.
But what I didn't expect was that occasionally the point of the view of one of the horses, or Max's faithful Borzoi hound, Taras, occasionally steps into the story. I wouldn't call it a "talking animal" story, but I would say it does an excellent job of building the two horses and the dog as important to the story as the two human characters.
Loved this introduction to the Przewalski's horses:
The wild horses didn't mix with the other animals at Askaniya-Nova, and a longer acquaintance with them revealed to Kalinka that they were very different from the horses she had known before. The first time that one of the wild horses chased and fetched a stick like a dog was a revelation to her. They loved to play hide-and-seek and they were fond of practical jokes: she lost count of the occasions on which her hat was snatched from her head and made off with, or a handkerchief nibbled out of her pocket with a stealth that would not have disgraced a competent thief. In the few moments Kalinka tried to find some privacy in the bush or behind a tree, she often found herself disturbed by a horse playing peekaboo. It was times like these Kalinka was convinced that the wild horses were almost capable of laughter.
Here's a little touch of the old gamekeeper, Max, who I dearly loved:
Max built up the fire, threw an old horse blanket in front of the gap under his front door, filled a ceramic hot-water bottle to cradle on his lap as she sat in his armchair, swaddled himself with fur rugs and thought himself very fortunate that he wasn't abroad on the steppe, for in the depths of Ukrainian winter, there is no enemy as bitter and determined as the northeasterly wind. It rattled the door, leaned against the window and penetrated the smallest cracks in the walls and floorboards. That something as usually tranquil as air could behave with such violence never ceased to astonish Max. "Even a snowman might feel inclined to come inside on a night like this," he told Taras, and blew on the ember in the bowl of his pipe only for the comfort of seeing it glow.
Max is Ukrainian, but the refuge he works at was founded by a German baron, who taught Max his love of animals and particularly horses. So when the Soviets tell Max to flee the refuge because the Germans are coming, he decides to stay and take his chances. Unfortunately Captain Grenzmann shows up with his troops, a Nazi through and through, even to the point of believing that the Przewalski's horses are inferior to high bred German breeds (just as Jews are inferior to Germans) and must therefore be exterminated lest they pollute purer bloodlines. Grenzmann gave me the chills, especially since he tries to appear so very reasonable and kind. But he's not. Absolutely not.
"But look here, Max, I didn't have much choice in the matter. Not after my superiors in Berlin made up their minds. I tried to explain this to you the other day. I'm just a captain, not a general. And I don't make policy decisions in such matters. I just execute them."
"It makes not difference what you are, out here," said Max. "You're the man in charge. And it seems to me that we've always got a choice. I think that's what makes us human...."
Here's another reason why I loved Max:
"These horses heal better the natural way.... With God's help, she'll be fine, I think."
"God," said Kalinka, and made a snorting noise that had the stallion turning around to look at her curiously. "If he lived on earth, I think people would smash his windows. I know I would."
"I bet that's not something your grandfather said," said Max.
Kalinka shivered under her blanket and did not reply.
"There's no point in trying to understand God," said Max. "If we did, he wouldn't be God, I think."
Also, I loved it when Max said this:
"I sit out side on the veranda there and watch the sun paint the sky. He's quite an artist, is the sun, you know. I heard one of the Germans talking about the meaning of life, and I thought to myself, I don't know a better meaning than the contemplation of the universe and all of God's works."
Being the map geek that I am, I loved the scene where Grenzmann and Max are looking at the wall map of Askaniya-Nova (even though Grenzmann is particularly chilling in this scene):
"Let me see now, sir. It was badly damaged [the pumping station, where Max has hidden the horses] during the earthquake of 1927, and like a lot of things around here, it hasn't worked since. You know, there'a whole village on this map where everyone died during the great famine of 1932. You can still see it. But no one lives there."
"Yes, I've seen that village." The captain shrugged. "It's of no interest to anyone."
"That's just how it was in those days, sir. Things got built. Things were abandoned. Things are forgotten. And really, that's the story of Mother Russia."
"I wasn't asking you for a history lesson, Max. I'm a German. We don't read history; we make it. I was asking if you knew what these structures might be. But thank you, I think you've answered my question." He smiled.
More fascinating tidbits: how Max would sweeten his tea with jam. (Tea made in a samovar, of course). How he named the stallion Temujin (Ghenghis Khan's birth name, because the Przewalski's horses were native to Mongolia) and the mare, Borte, after Temujin's queen. How the ancient cave paintings through out Europe include horses that look exactly like Przewalski's horses (so that they are even called Cave Horses). How Kalinka outsmarts the Germans chasing her in the ancient tomb (even though it was a bit hard to believe!)
And I must also mention Joachin Stammer, another German captain, who is completely unlike Captain Grenzmann.
And the last scene, the one when the Red Army breaks out in song - the famous song Kalinka song after which the girl is nicknamed - I just had to include it:
The Red Army never needed much of an excuse for a song and dance to keep up their spirits. Polished triangular balalaikas were already being tuned, bulky piano accordions were being buckled onto broad chests and shiny tin harmonicas were searching for middle C. To Kalinka, it all looked and sounded utterly chaotic until, as one man, the entire army fell silent and, almost imperceptibly, a single note began in the chests of the men like the hum of a huge swarm of honeybees. Gradually, this eternal note gathered in strength until it filled the Black Sea air in a great crescendo of male voices that sounded as if they were nothing less than a heavenly choir. The magnificent sound - for so Kalinka thought it - began and ceased and began again, glimmering and vast, an ebb and flow of both melancholy and joy that seemed to sum up everything the girl had been through; if man could produce such honey-sweet music with that was in their hearts, then surely there was still some hope for the world.
Based on loosely on the life of a real person, a young woman in 1900-1901 who was one of the natives who helped the first white man, Robert Peary, his...moreBased on loosely on the life of a real person, a young woman in 1900-1901 who was one of the natives who helped the first white man, Robert Peary, his team and his family, in his exploration of Ellesmere Island, leading up to his claim of reaching the North Pole in 1909.
Loved reading about these Arctic adventures from the perspective of a native, and a girl to boot! Eqariusaq was a spirited girl, too - loved her outspoken but sometimes wistful character. She was part of the tiny population of polar Inugguit (commonly known as polar Eskimos) which numbered only a few hundred a century ago, about about 700-800 now. Her story and her people were so fascinating to me I googled more about the modern Inugguit and found an excellent series of articles by Stephen Pax Leonard with the Guardian publication.
In the extensive historical notes at the back of this book, I found it very interesting that the author had first written a story about the Snow Baby, which was based on a book written by Robert Peary's wife about her travels with her husband in the Arctic and where their young daughter, Marie was born and spent many years with them. In the Snow Baby, the Pearys write about Billy Bah, the nickname of the Inuit girl who became their nanny. They even took Billy Bah back to NY and Washington DC with them. The author thought it would interesting to write another story from the perspective of Billy Bah (Eqariusaq).
I found this book in the Middle Grade section of my library, and it reads like MG, but Billy Bah is already 16 when the story starts and has already been married 3 summers. A couple other shockers: within the first few chapters her husband trades Billy to the white sailors in exchange for bullets. Yup, he prostitutes her out. This is actually a common practice among Inuit men and woman in general (according to the story; other reviewers have taken issue with this fact), and it isn't a big deal to Billy, though she doesn't like it. However, Inuit women do have the right to divorce their husbands; they weren't helpless or slaves or without rights. Billy's husband is characterized as greedy and lazy at times, but at other times very brave and appreciative of Billy. The story gives a similar balanced characterization of Peary and the other white people: sometimes they do selfish things; sometimes they do noble things. Not all the explorers were white too - it was fascinating to learn that Matthew Henson, Peary's right hand man, was a black man!
The story is full of adventure and cultural tidbits about the Inuits and explorers over a century ago. A lot of facts of living in the Arctic I remember from another fantastic book, Julie of the Wolves, but these Inuit people lived even further north. Some new things to me though was the hunting of musk ox and narwhal; how important feasting was to these people; how often they went without food at all; how they called the Northern Lights "the ancestors"; how Billy would talk to her dead parents (there's a bit of a mystery about what happened to her parents).
An example of some of the different attitudes of the polar Inuits: The white men feeling sorry for the orphan boy, who Billy nicknames Bag of Bones. "They didn't realize that orphan boys, left to care for themselves, often became our people's best and bravest hunters."
And one of my favorite excerpts:
Duncan, a white sailor on the ship the Windward, talking to Billy Bah:
"You went to America. What was that like for you?"
Shy, I pulled my comforting kaputak up around me. "America is very crowded. The food as no flavor! Winters are not nearly so cold. Your pee never freezes in midair! Hah!"
I'd added this last detail because it was the sort of tidbit that my fahter, a wonderful storyteller, would have included.
"Tell me," I said. "What do you think of my land?"
He grinned. "The glaciers are beautiful. The stars... and yes, it's strange! In this cold, like you say, pee freezes! The hair on my face stops growing."
"Why did you come here?"
He leaned toward me, eyes shining, as if he'd just returned from a hunt. "An Arctic voyage - ah. I love danger. I feel sharp and alive when I risk my life every single day."
"But living here is not dangerous."
His eyebrows lifted. "No?"
I said what my father had once told me: "It's mostly fools or the young who die in accidents. We know how to gauge the snow, and to wait until the right time to travel. Things happen very slowly here."