I hadn't picked this one up right away, because I heard that Katsa, the star of Graceling, was not in it... and I loved Katsa so much, I couldn't pict...moreI hadn't picked this one up right away, because I heard that Katsa, the star of Graceling, was not in it... and I loved Katsa so much, I couldn't picture the Seven Kingdoms without her. What a mistake! This was a fabulous book, and almost more of a companion novel, rather than a true prequel. On the other side of the mountains, completely cut off from the Gracelings, we get a glimpse of a parallel world. To be honest, it nearly could have been a different series altogether if it weren't for the brief inclusion of creepy Leck, who possesses the "Grace" of mind-control.
The titular character of this novel, Fire, grew up in an isolated mountain retreat with her best friend and sometime lover Archer and foster father Lord Brocker. In this world, technicolored super-versions of every species are referred to as "monsters." Fire is a human monster, with telepathic powers. She can influence others thoughts, read minds, and communicate through telepathy. Her mere presence is usually enough to provoke strong feelings in other humans and in the monster-creatures around her. Fire's father Cansrel was the advisor of King Nax, who led the kingdom into ruin with his penchant for drugs and parties. Cansrel was an exceptionally cruel person who delighted in torturing others, and reveled in the stupefying effect he had on ordinary humans. Fire wants, more than anything, to be different than him.
Prince Brigan approaches Fire to ask for her help with a delicate political situation in the capitol, which she initially refuses to do, until his thoughtfulness and kindness finally win her over. He is less susceptible to her magical aura, and provides her with a group of female bodyguards to escort her. At the climax of the story, Fire stretches her mental powers to the utmost, by keeping track of an entire castle-full of occupants during an evening of espionage at a state dinner and carefully nudging players to be in the right place, at the right time.
I wondered whether most teens would be interested in reading about Fire's intense conflicts on whether it would be right for her to have children, and her ultimate decision not to have children, not wanting to create more "monsters" like herself. This was a powerful and engaging story, however. The writing is lyrical and vibrant and the world-building is incredible. Many of the themes verge on the adult, including patricide, making this a more appropriate choice for older teens.(less)
**spoiler alert** Set in an alternate historical, magical America, young Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child. Her twin brother Lan, on the other hand,...more**spoiler alert** Set in an alternate historical, magical America, young Eff is an unlucky thirteenth child. Her twin brother Lan, on the other hand, is the seventh son of a seventh son -- destined for greatness. She and most of her immediate family move away from Helvan Shores for a fresh start on the magical frontier after her extended family refuse to stop harassing her for her supposed bad luck.
I had heard a lot about the controversy surrounding Wrede's alternative history frontier fantasy before I read it, so I settled down to read this book with some trepidation, even though I dearly love Patricia Wrede. Because her new Frontier Magic series takes place in an alternate American history, one where the United States never had a Native American population, many readers and critics were troubled. It seems deeply insensitive to eradicate a group of people who have already been through so much. And yet, reading the book, didn't feel as overwhelmingly uncomfortable as I would have thought. I'm also a fan of Joss Whedon's Firefly, a science-fiction/Wild West type show, and I have to admit, the lack of Native Americans on that show never bothered me. It was unclear to me, reading Wrede's book, if slavery had ever existed in her alternate history. While Aphrikan people (and their magic) seem to be a rare minority, no further backstory is given.
I liked the idea of frontierspeople struggling to hold their own against magical creatures; mammoths, dragons, enchanted beetles. Magic, in this world, is commonplace and everyday. The Wild West twang to the character's speech added depth to the story.
Eff's continual low self-esteem became a bit wearing as the story went on. She is just as worried at age eighteen about inadvertently causing bad luck to befall her family and loved ones as she was at age five, when her maliciously bad-tempered extended family went so far as to outright suggest that her parents do away with her. Some of the terms like Mammoth River (for the Mississippi) or Columbia (for America) being thrown together with place names such as Philadelphia threw me a bit. I wish that this had been set in a completely new world altogether, kind of like Robin McKinley's The Blue Sword.
I was fascinated with the Rationalists, Puritan-like settlers who eschew magic entirely. I was really rooting for them, especially after seeing how callously many of the magicians in the story treated Eff. Eff's older sister Rennie elopes with one of the Rationalists and her encampment is one of the only ones resistant to a particularly nasty strain of magical locust-like mirror bugs. So, I was disappointed when Eff finally has the chance to visit them and Rennie breaks down, admitting that life without magic is very, very hard -- so much so, that she's resorted to sneaking in a spell or two to make her hardscrabble life a bit easier.
On the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I'll definitely put it in the hands of young fantasy readers who enjoyed Wrede's Sorcery and Cecilia series, or the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I'm curious too, how this book would fare as book club material for mature readers; considering there are so many different themes at play to provide fodder for discussion. (less)
Surplus Anna's been brainwashed into submission in a world where procreation (and therefore, the existence all young people) are forbidden.
Citizens w...moreSurplus Anna's been brainwashed into submission in a world where procreation (and therefore, the existence all young people) are forbidden.
Citizens who take Longevity medicine must agree to sign away their reproductive rights. This book presents a slightly more sophisticated take on these issues than Haddix's Shadow Children series. It's also somewhat reminiscent of J.G. Ballard - as a very minor point in the story Americans living in "uninhabitable" places naturally pack up and leave, once their air conditioning and other creature comforts are taken away. There were allusions to The Handmaiden's Tale as well, with the docile servitude expected from the illegal children. On the whole, I enjoyed this, despite a few holes in the plot, and an ending that managed to simultaneously tie things up a little too neatly yet still leave some major questions unanswered.(less)
Unfortunately, I found this installment of the Immortals series to probably be the weakest yet. We jump right into the action, and readers would be st...moreUnfortunately, I found this installment of the Immortals series to probably be the weakest yet. We jump right into the action, and readers would be strongly advised to read the preceding books, Evermore, Blue Moon, and Shadowland first. In this latest episode, Ever and former best friend, the newly immortal Haven are at odds. Ever feels terrible for "cursing" Haven with immortality, but Ever's boyfriend Damen accurately predicts that Haven will love her new preternatural abilities. Meanwhile, Ever is struggling under an evil spell that makes her attracted to rogue immortal Roman, Damen's centuries long arch-rival, and is desperately trying to hide her embarrassing feelings from her friends. Roman already has the upper-hand, being the only person with an antidote to the spell that prevents Ever and Damen from touching. (Ever and Damen hug and kiss a lot for people who supposedly can't touch, though.) Roman intensifies his position by successfully wooing Haven, driving another wedge between Ever and Damen.
Nice-guy surfer Jude still pines for Ever, but she doesn't seem to feel anything for him. Damen is creepily Edward-esque, being alternately distant and jealous of Ever. Ever and Haven's gay friend Miles is terrifically out of the loop on all of this, but he is too busy and happy to be going on a trip to Florence, Italy to really notice or care about any of the new stresses his friends are experiencing.
For me at least, the introduction of Roman as a new potential love interest for Ever (one that she's simultaneously addicted to and disgusted by) turned this series away from being a love triangle, Ever-Damen-Jude, into a love square, which is a much harder balancing act. It also pushes Ever a little more solidly into Mary Sue territory if all of the male leads (except for Miles, of course) are crazy about her.
This series has always been very Pagan friendly, and that continues in this book. Most of the main characters regularly use plenty of New Age meditations, chakras, crystals and herbs. Reformed charlatan psychic Ava returns briefly to lecture Ever about thinking positively. One of the major problems of the book is that Ever just isn't as smart as I'd like her to be. As she reminds us several times throughout the book her weakest chakra is her throat - so she's bad at discernment, and always making bad decisions.
One redeeming feature of the book was that I was completely taken by surprise by the ending. I love a story that has some kind of twist at the end - and this definitely delivered on that score. Long-time fans will probably already have eagerly snapped up this book, but new readers to the series may find the lack of forward plot-progression somewhat daunting. (less)
I raced through this sequel to Shiver. The story continues with Grace enjoying her relationship with Sam, newly cured of his lycanthropy, while Grace'...moreI raced through this sequel to Shiver. The story continues with Grace enjoying her relationship with Sam, newly cured of his lycanthropy, while Grace's best friend Isabel still grieves over the recent death of her brother. Sam is struggling to deal with the permanence of his new situation, while still worrying over which of his wolf "family" will return to human form in the spring. In the meantime, a few of the new wolves that Sam's adoptive dad Beck recently created are having troubles. Recovering addict and famous rocker Cole is angry that his wolf change doesn't seem to be sticking... he'd been hoping to escape his human life by turning wolf. Cole's friend Victor, unwittingly turned wolf, seems to be having trouble staying in one form.
Sam is, in every way, the perfect boyfriend... sensitive, poetic, genuinely thoughtful, undemanding. There is some tension as he's been sneaking into Grace's bedroom every night, not for prurient reasons, but just to snuggle. It isn't explicitly said, but implied, that despite their attraction, their frequent kisses and and despite their absolute rightness for each other, Grace and Sam are probably still virgins. When Grace's parents discover him in their daughter's bed they react with feelings of hurt and rage. They promptly assume the worst and ban Sam from their household, letting Grace know in no uncertain terms how disappointed they are in her. In the meantime, Grace and Sam both feel strongly that they want to get married. I thought this was interesting, because it's plenty common for high school girls to fantasize about marrying their boyfriend... but I'm not sure if young men usually harbor those same thoughts. Grace, predictably, feels embittered that her neglectful parents choose to get involved in her life at this late date.
I was a little surprised at how very desperate Grace, and to some extent, Sam, become during their enforced separation. With Grace's 18th birthday only a few months away, they have very little to lose by simply lying low and waiting a little while until they can be together, even without Grace's parents blessing. However, they both feel the pain of separation keenly, and unable to bear even a few days without him, Grace runs away to stay with Sam at Beck's place at the edge of the woods.
Linger adds the viewpoints of Cole and Isabel, who play counterpoint to Grace and Sam. While it's clear that Grace and Sam are meant to be, together forever, soulmates; Cole and Isabel, on the other hand, have a purely animal attraction, lending a dangerous feel to most of their interactions. Cole questions the whole premise that the change to wolf is caused by cold temperatures... he sees too many exceptions to the rule.
I will say that all the foreshadowing in the book in regards to Grace's exposure to a werewolf bite as a girl made the ending totally predictable, but surprisingly I didn't mind. Even though I knew, pretty much from the second page, where the book was going, I still enjoyed the journey. There is a cliffhanger, and I am very curious to see where Stiefvater will take us next.(less)
Word on the street is that zombies are the new vampires. I dunno. I just don't know. Zombies don't have nearly half the sex-appeal that vampires do. T...moreWord on the street is that zombies are the new vampires. I dunno. I just don't know. Zombies don't have nearly half the sex-appeal that vampires do. The thing is, vampires dress great, sometimes are quite wealthy from their long-term (real long term!) investment schemes, and frequently have impeccable manners (when they're not overcome with bloodlust). Zombies, on the other hand, are kind of gross. They smell bad, they lurch and stumble and they like to eat brains. What's appealing about that?
Megan Berry is born into a Zombie Settler family, meaning she has been gifted/cursed with ability to put the undead to rest. Unlike the stereotype, these "Unsettled" don't eat brains, but are merely seeking out mediums with which to share their last wishes or mortal regrets. Once they've said their peace, they quickly make their way back to their graves. This doesn't make working with them any less unappealing, however, as they usually suffer from various states of decomposition. Megan borrows a page from Buffy's book as she desperately tries to keep the growing number of undead in her small Southern town under control; she wants nothing more than to be on the cheerleading squad, and enjoy homecoming dance. She hopes that by ignoring her gift, somehow, the gross and gory zombies will just leave her alone. Five years ago, she was party to an especially vicious zombie attack, and since then, her powers have waned considerably. She'd been hoping that she'd get to go back to being a completely ordinary girl, but a new rash of zombies have squelched her plans for a run-of-the-mill existence. An old childhood friend, and fellow Settler, Ethan, is around to give Megan catch-up lessons as she desperately tries to sort out who might be behind the increased numbers of Unsettled, including much more dangerous Reanimated Corpses. Megan struggles to keep a facade of normalcy with her best friend Jess and popular jock Josh (who she considers excellent boyfriend material) as she attempts to hold on to her popularity ranking at school. In the meantime, she has to cope with bitchy Monica, a fellow Settler, and her own growing crush on totally cute, now-that-he's-all-grown-up Ethan, now working for Settler Affairs. Interspersing disgusting battle scenes and smelly zombies with high school humor and flippant off the cuff remarks from Megan, You Are So Undead to Me definitely owes a debt to Buffy of Vampire Slayer fame.
There's quite a surprise ending to this book when the true villain is revealed, which I didn't see coming and really enjoyed. There's a sequel, Undead Much? released earlier this year. Anyone looking for a funnier, less moody take on zombies than Carrie Ryan's wonderful Forest of Hands and Teeth will want to take a look at this series.(less)
Eon is hiding a secret: she is actually Eona. In a fantasy mileau heavily influenced by feudal China, 12 spirit dragons (one for each of the years of...moreEon is hiding a secret: she is actually Eona. In a fantasy mileau heavily influenced by feudal China, 12 spirit dragons (one for each of the years of the zodiac) help rule the land with the humans they are bonded to. They all serve under the Emperor. Being a Dragoneye wears out the body, so after a 12 year training period and a 12 year reign, the retired Dragoneye has the stamina of a old man, and a scant few years of retirement.
Because of the girl-disguised as boy motif, and the setting amidst the military training barracks, the obvious comparison is Tamara Pierce's Alanna's books, but Eon: Dragoneye Reborn take a much grittier tone. Eona is not only hiding her gender, she is also coping with a painful lame leg. As an awkward repressed memory resurfaces, Eon realizes that that her master was actually the one to inflict the injury, gambling on the fact that her deformity will allow her to avoid the locker room, all the better to conceal her secret. Of course, as a woman disguised as a boy, one of her prime concerns is how to cover her menstruation. This is discussed in frank detail and the author doesn't take an easy out of providing some magical herb which ceases her cycles, either.
The author plays with every possible variation of gender and class roles, including several different types of eunuchs, men and ladies of the court, serving maids, and contraires (biologically male, but they dress and live as women.)
At the tournament where candidates battle each other for the opportunity to become the next Dragoneye, Eona is nearly chosen by the Rat Dragon, but at the last moment she is instead chosen by the Mirror Dragon, missing for these past 500 years. Believing her to be a fellow eunuch, Ryoko and his mistress Lady Dela (a contraire) take Eona under their wing when Eona's victory elevates her to the prickly intrigues of the imperial court.
Eona spends most of her time trying to subdue her female or "Moon" energy, even going so far as to take steroids. It's only at the very end that Eona realizes the Mirror Dragon is actually female as well, and embraces her femininity to fully access her power.
Long battle scenes, and a plot that moved a bit slowly in places can be forgiven for the richly detailed world, complete with several nations, competing social classes, and a complex backstory. Goodman's exploration of gender settles in nicely somewhere between Tamara Pierce's Alanna series and Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness. The highly anticipated sequel, Eona: The Last Dragoneye isn't due to be published until 2010, but we can only hope that Eona will be marshaling her magical gifts and martial training to meet the challenges that will surely be facing her ahead.(less)
Told in free-verse poems, this short novel explores the feelings of a girl whose parents have been long divorced, hence the “42 miles” that JoEllen mu...moreTold in free-verse poems, this short novel explores the feelings of a girl whose parents have been long divorced, hence the “42 miles” that JoEllen must commute between them both. JoEllen finds her father's move to the countryside tough to navigate, as she is forced to re-arrange her schedule around her divorced parents needs. "Joey" spends countryside weekends with her father cooking, exploring the outdoors and visiting her cousin. During the week, "Ellen" hangs with her friends, orders take-out and lives a totally hip, urban lifestyle. She feels split and conflicted over this. She misses seeing her pals on the weekends, she's tired of having to put on a brave face, and mostly, she's exhausted by the constant effort of censoring herself in front of her parents who each wish to see her as their own little girl, without the influence of the other parent.
Lacking a King Solomon figure to protect her, JoEllen decides to take a stand for herself. She insists that her parents call her by her own full name. She demands that her father respect her own social calendar by not claiming every weekend with her and that he create a more welcoming space for her in his farmhouse. She lets her mother know that she isn't willing to continue pretending to be someone else, or pretend that her father never existed. JoEllen explains her feelings this way, “Mom doesn’t see Joey./Dad rarely meets Ellen./And no one ever asked/if that’s fine, just fine/with me.”
The book is illustrated with various “found” objects and realia. Ephemera such as movie tickets, photographs, advertisements, recipes and ribbons make up a collage that symbolize JoEllen's pieced together life. I cheered for JoEllen when she finally felt empowered enough to stand up to her parents and the school bully, give herself a make-over, and invite both her city and countryside friends to her 13th birthday party.(less)
It's about pirates... who are also the undead! It's about vampires... who sail the high seas! It's about... VAMPIRATES!
In this thrilling action adven...moreIt's about pirates... who are also the undead! It's about vampires... who sail the high seas! It's about... VAMPIRATES!
In this thrilling action adventure, twins Connor and Grace are bereft when their father dies and leaves them penniless. They quickly make their escape from an orphanage and sail away from the lighthouse island they grew up on. A sea storm later, Connor ends up on a pirate ship, while Grace ends up battling for her life on a vampire ship. Connor soon takes up sword-fighting lessons, which come in handy during several battles. Grace, on the other hand, must use her wits to puzzle out the mystery of what exactly is going on aboard the macabre vessel where she's being held captive. The story is told in alternating chapters, and while the twins are satisfyingly reunited in the end, it promises to be the beginning of a series. And, sure enough, British author Somper quickly followed the first book, Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean with three more; Tide of Terror, Blood Captain and Black Heart.
The title certainly drew me in, and I think it's something with a lot of kid appeal, definitely.(less)
Anderson takes us back to Superman and Batman's roots in this action-packed novel set in the late 1950's. I must confess, I haven't read very much of...moreAnderson takes us back to Superman and Batman's roots in this action-packed novel set in the late 1950's. I must confess, I haven't read very much of the original DC Comics, always having been a little better acquainted with the Marvel stories. I couldn't help but picture Christopher Reeve though, especially in those scenes where Clark is a nervous bumbler.
I felt Anderson ably rounded out the character of Superman, portraying him as a shy charmer with a big heart. Superman's loneliness as the only surviving member of his planet is emphasized. Even though he always referred to himself in his own thoughts as "Kal-El" he felt equally at ease as Clark Kent. Serious consideration is given to his life as Clark Kent, his honest desire to be a successful newsman, and his genuine attachment to his adoptive mother. And of course, he's klutzy around Lois Lane. He's also earnest to a fault.
Anderson struggles a bit with the character development of Batman, leaning on James Bond cliches to round him out, including having Bruce Wayne drink martinis, drive the same model car and wear the same wristwatch as Bond.
Lex Luthor is depicted as a hard-nosed mafioso, an impetuous and a cold-blooded killer. There's no sly wink that makes him the villain we love to hate, a la Captain Hook to Superman's Peter Pan. Luthor is in bed with the Ruskies, as he cooks up schemes to intimidate and frighten the American populace with faked flying saucers and nuclear threats which will further his business interests. Luthor is quite misogynist and ageist, sending his elderly and female employees to certain deaths working in radiation mines. I was only surprised that Anderson didn't portray him as racist too, but perhaps that was a can of worms that he didn't want to open.
Probably the most surreal were scenes where Bruce Wayne and Lex Luthor meet for business dealings, or where Clark Kent and Jimmy Olson chat with Albert the butler before interviewing Wayne for a newspaper article. Worlds collide!
There are several cameos from several famous world figures of the day, more to remind readers that the book takes place in the 1950’s than anything else.
While the two heroes initially mistrust each other, they quickly realize it will be to their mutual advantage to join forces. Batman is extremely jealous of Superman’s unearthly abilities, having to rely on gadgets himself; but it turns to his advantage when Superman is crippled by a enormous Kryptonite meteor, and the unaffected Batman is able to save the Man of Steel.
While some reviewers will certainly declare this novel another “workmanlike” production, Anderson does strive for deft phrasing, often eschewing simpler terms. In the busy newsroom, Clark Kent focuses on "the sheet of bond rolled into the platen." of his manual typewriter. Cigar-chomping Perry White's office is described reeking of "resinous, pungeunt smoke."
It appears that the book has been through a couple of design changes. The latest version I've seen features a black cover with the iconic Batman and Superman symbols outlined in red. The advance reader copy I read had the same black cover, with the symbols in full color. I’m curious if the back cover will retain the cartoon images of Superman and Batman splayed across it... it certainly sums up the appeal of the book. Those who grew up on Superfriends Saturday morning cartoons as well as teen comic book fans will be glad to return to a universe familiar to them with a fresh twist. (less)