". . . Without knowledge that life can be different, there can be no desire to change it."
In the land of Quill, all thirteen-year-olds are sent to th...more". . . Without knowledge that life can be different, there can be no desire to change it."
In the land of Quill, all thirteen-year-olds are sent to the annual Purge where they will be divided into Wanted and Unwanted. For twin brothers Alex and Aaron, this day is especially daunting as they are both now thirteen and reluctant to separate. Or at least Alex is and would like to believe his brother reciprocates this sentiment. On the day of the Purge Alex is unsurprisingly categorized as Unwanted and his brother Aaron is chosen as a Wanted. Feeling scared and helpless, Alex goes off to meet his death along with his fellow Unwanteds. But when he arrives at the Death Farmer's doorstep, he is surprised to find a land where magic and creativity thrive. Animated origami dragons; giant talking tortoises; and a montrous, winged cheetah named Simber are just a few of the many astonishing creatures that can be found in Artime. Still, when the Unwanteds arrive in Artime they expect to be executed momentarily. But instead all of the children are quickly assured by Mr. Today that this shall not be their fate. Known to the people of Quill as the "Death Farmer," Mr. Today has spent many years perfecting Artime and making it a safe haven for the Unwanteds. As you can imagine, this revelation is as surprising as it is a saving grace for the kids. But if any members of the Quilitary found out of their rebellion, it would mean a sure death for all involved. This, of course, means that neither Alex nor any of the other Unwanteds are allowed to contact anyone — friends, relatives, authorities — in Quill. Although sad at the prospect of never seeing his brother again, with his friends supporting him, Alex moves into Artime and begins a whole new life.
Kirkus Reviews hails The Unwanteds as "the Hunger Games meets Harry Potter." After having read it myself, I must agree. This is not to say that I believe McMann is attempting to subtly copy the two bestselling series as a means to gain more attention for her fledgling series. No, I believe that she has — whether knowingly or not, I won't speculate — taken some of the very best aspects of each series and used them as the underpinning for a new middle-grade dystopian fantasy series that will surely gain many fans.
The Unwanteds turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise for me. Despite my having enjoyed some of McMann's earlier works, I somehow felt that her voyage into the dystopian genre wouldn't turn out to my liking, thus making my expectations low going in. Luckily for me, I was wrong. Albeit lacking a little in the personality department, the characters are fresh and full of potential. I can see them growing and coming into themselves as the series progresses. For being so young, Lani — Alex's new friend/potential love interest — hasn't had an easy life. Having her father, Quill's mayor, pull strings to get her into the Purge at the premature age of twelve in order to be rid of her (view spoiler)[(or so she believes) (hide spoiler)] has left her with only feelings of resentment and hatred for her father. But when she begins learning the art of magic — and the magic of art — she soon excels and finds new friends and a sense of belonging in Artime. With the head of an alligator and the appendages of an octopus, Alex's art teacher, Ms. Octavia, is rather startling at first. But soon she teaches him all the tricks of the artist's trade. In Artime's school, Alex learns everything from how to use paper clips as a potentially lethal weapon to turning flowers into music boxes.
I'll freely admit that, had The Unwanteds been more dystopian than fantasy, I'd probably not have enjoyed it nearly as much. The majority of the story is set in the beautiful and magical world of Artime, and so it doesn't have the bleak and depressing atmosphere of some dystopias. It is for these reasons that I'll be eagerly awaiting the release of its sequel due out next September, Island of Silence. 3.5 stars
P.S. If you're interested in The Unwanteds, may I suggest the audio verison? I believe Simon Jones's narrative adds an extra-special something to the story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Although Atwater-Rhodes has garnered much-deserved attention from critics and received several awards for her young adult stories, here on GR and on s...moreAlthough Atwater-Rhodes has garnered much-deserved attention from critics and received several awards for her young adult stories, here on GR and on several other book-reviewing websites, her positive feedback has been moderate at best. I believe this is partially because of the age of most of her stories/series: most of them began before the Twilight era swept the world, and thus don't have the swooning heroines and brooding heroes that everyone has become accustomed to in more recent years. (They must feel as if there's something missing!) The relationships are wholesome and intriguing, sexy and provocative, but not overblown like most today.
Hawksong's premise is simple: Danica Shardae, last living heir to the avian throne, and Zane Cobriana, last living heir to the serpiente throne, must marry despite their deferences --- the former being a hawk shapeshifter and the later being a cobra --- in order to put an end to the age-old war between their species that has dwindled their numbers drastically and caused much heartache among them. It is this little plot that drew me to it years ago and that has brought me back for a second time.
Let me just say this: I, despite having read over 300 books since late 2008 (I wasn't big on reading before then), can count on one hand how many books I've taken the time to read more than once. This isn't because I'm exaggerating when I say I love a book, but because I simply don't see any reason to read something twice unless it spoke to me on a certain level the first time around. Very few have done this, but Hawksong, regardless of the years that have passed since I last turned its pages, stuck in my mind enough to make me want to read it again. And, I can honestly say that it stood the test of time; I think I even enjoyed it more now than when I read it so long ago.
Danica is the kind of heroine I wish YA authors created more these days: she's independent and strong enough to sit by the dying, holding their hand as they draw their last breaths; she's resilient and self-sacrificing, even in a case where she must commit herself to a life-long marriage with someone whom she's been raised from birth to fear, all just to try and make peace and save the lives of her people. Zane has a hard exterior with a soft heart underneath, and is just as determined to heal the damage caused by the war as Danica is. They go together very well, they just don't realize it until it's almost too late.
When I first read Hawksong, years back, I, for some reason that escapes me now, didn't take the time to continue with the series and follow it up with Snakecharm. Why, I'll never know; but in a way I'm glad I didn't, because now I get to follow these characters into their next chapter, for the first time.(less)
Often times, when an author is highly talented in their genre, they don't do as well when trying their hand at another. Especially when the two genres...moreOften times, when an author is highly talented in their genre, they don't do as well when trying their hand at another. Especially when the two genres in question are as dissimilar as realism and fantasy. Naturally, this sort of thing isn't a problem for an author like Melina Marchetta. As if being the fan proclaimed Queen of YA realistic fiction wasn't enough, she had to go and write Finnikin of the Rock and prove to her fans and critics alike that labels and genres mean nothing to her, that she's in the top tier no matter what the task calls for. Bravo, Marchetta. Bravo.
In the land of Skuldenore, there is a kingdom called Lumatere. Like all kingdoms, there is a King and Queen who rule over its people. These people and their rulers were happy until the day when a neighboring kingdom's rulers decided to use Lumatere as the means to eventually take over another kingdom, Belegonia. This leads to the slaughter of the King and Queen and their heirs, and soon after they are replaced by an imposter king and the majority of Lumatere's people become exiles. This is the ground work for what promises to be an epic fantasy saga.
I can't say that I expected anything less than a remarkable male lead from Marchetta (especially after recently meeting Jonah Griggs in another one of Marchetta's masterpieces, Jellicoe Road), but Finnikin still took me by surprise. I imagine it is very different and probably much more difficult to write a character in a fantasy world than in the real world, and for this reason I was curious to see how Finnikin would compare to Marchetta's other male characters. It turns out that he is just as brilliantly crafted as his competition. He feels envy, lust, and rage, just as any human does. But those emotions are equally matched by his level of compassion, endurance, and love for his father, his homeland, and one lucky lady. And what a lady Evanjalin is! She stirs the blood of the hopeless exiles and gets them on their feet and fighting. She carries a heavy burden, of which is unbeknownst to the reader for most of the novel, but she is resolute in her quest to restore the kingdom of Lumatere. I always appreciate characters who make you want to stand up and right the wrongs in the world, and Evanjalin's fierce determination did just that for me.
Because of her fabulous and utterly realistic portrayals of human life, Marchetta has garnered a legion of the most devoted fans an author could ask for. And I am proud to say that I'm among them. I'll be perilously balanced on the edge of my seat until the release of Froi of the Exiles.
P.S. If you'd like some snippets of info on Froi's book to tide you over until its release, check out this and this.(less)
Born with an ability that is more of a curse than a gift, Katsa's life hasn't been an easy one. Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill. And when an...moreBorn with an ability that is more of a curse than a gift, Katsa's life hasn't been an easy one. Katsa is Graced with the ability to kill. And when an accident causes her to kill a man at the age of eight, she soon realizes what her Grace really is. Upon finding out Katsa's true Grace, King Randa of the Middluns, Katsa's uncle, quickly decides to utilize her morbid abilities rather than kill her for them as most would. Wanting to harness her abilities and control them rather than be ruled by them as she's ruled by the King, Katsa begins to train and practice her skills. Over time she grows more and more in tune with her Grace and soon she becomes King Randa's greatest and most adept fighter. But will these skills do her any good when another, more corrupt king threatens all whom she cares for?
I found Katsa's strong character, independence, and fierce determination to be very admirable. Upon first being introduced to her character, I wasn't sure that I'd like her. But by the end of the novel she managed to become another favorite heroine of mine. (FYI, my list of favorite female characters is very short.) Katsa isn't your average damsel in distress and I was glad to see---for once---that the female was actually the stronger of the two in her relationship with Po. And that Po was more than fine with this fact. It's easy for the romance and relationships to become repetitive and even redundant when you've read 200+ books. But Ms. Cashore surprised me with her talent for writing and her ability to entertain and create fresh characters.
At first, I wasn't sure what to think of all the bling Po sports. I kept imagining something like this. (Except younger and with a lot less hair.) Finding out that it was the tradition of his people was a relief. The reason for all of his jewelry wearing ended up being very interesting, though. I found his people's customs and the origins of his jewelry quite intriguing. And the man himself SHOCKED ME. I say this with caps because, in the beginning, much like with Katsa, I wasn't sure I'd like him. At first, all of the jewelry he's described as wearing aside, he just didn't seem like a character I could foresee myself warming up to. It's safe to say I'm warm now. I don't know, it was like the more I read (listened), the more I liked him. Until, finally, I loved him. He's not like a lot of the other leading male characters being written in the YA genre today. He comes off as sort of simple, at first, and then, before you know it, he's found his way into your heart. (view spoiler)[I'm not ashamed to say that I cried when Katsa realized Po was blind. By that point, I was very attached and found of his character. Also, while, thankfully, I'm not blind, I've recently had problems with my eyes. I was kind of shocked that the author would write a development like that with a character so close to the end of the novel. But I commend Ms. Cashore for writing that. It was sad and unexpected but it worked. And it definitely struck a chord with me. (hide spoiler)] Po's special in a simplistic yet complex way. If that makes sense.
The revelations in this novel were all very surprising and well written. Besides the one mentioned in the spoiler above, there were several others that I didn't see coming. (view spoiler)[Katsa's true Grace? Yeah. Didn't foresee that one. I can only imagine how relieving it would be to find out your gift is Survival rather than something as horrible as Killing. (hide spoiler)]
King Leck of Monsea is easily one of the most malevolent, sadistic, and manipulative villains within the YA genre that I've ever come across. Although he's not actually in the story much, he plays a significant role as the villain and I thought he was well written.
Another thing I really liked about Graceling was the ending. It wasn't rushed like with most novels. (view spoiler)[I also liked that, when the time came and it needed to happen, Katsa killed Leck. A lot of authors seem to draw things out and make it so that the villain (if the story has one) is only defeated or killed at the very end. And by this point, obviously, the story is over and you're left with nothing but a rushed ending to an otherwise good story. I'm one of those readers that enjoys it when the author gives the reader a little time to enjoy the characters new found peace and happiness, rather than the ever popular and abrupt endings. (hide spoiler)]
Katsa's reluctent attraction to Po and her irritants and arguments with him were quite intriguing, also. And I loved it that their relationship wasn't rushed and overdone with the whole "soul mates" bit most authors are so found of using today.
FAVORITE QUOTE: "He sat against the tree, his knees bent and his head in his hands. His shoulders slumped. Tired, unhappy. Something tender caught in her breath at the sight of him. And then he raised his eyes and looked at her, and she saw what she had not seen before. She gasped. His eyes were beautiful. His face was beautiful to her in every way, and his shoulders and hands. And his arms that hung over his knees, and his chest that was not moving, because he held his breath as he watched her. And the heart in his chest. This friend. How had she not seen this before? How had she not seen him? She was blind. And then tears choked her eyes, for she had not asked for this. She had not asked for this beautiful man before her, with something hopeful in his eyes that she did not want."
Graceling is the perfect mix of action, suspense, sensuality, and it is one of the most of intriguing and fatastically written fantasy worlds I've ever had the pleasure of reading about----or, in this case, listening to.
Bottom line: If you've not yet read Graceling, I suggest you rectify that immediately. And if you have, please give the audio version a try. You won't be disappointed. (I'm talking to you, Flannery.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
"Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire. My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly, keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?"---Theodore Roethke,...more"Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire. My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly, keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?"---Theodore Roethke, In A Dark Time
I believe that quote reflects Fire's inner turmoil with her ability quite well.
There's a war on the horizon, and Fire's the last remaining human Monster known to the Dellian people, and so, because of her ability to alter and manipulate minds, she's called to interrogate prisoners by the Dellians' leader, King Nash. But Fire's afraid of becoming like her father; Cansrel was a harsh, sadistic man who cared about no one but his daughter. And Fire isn't willing to trust that she won't end up like him, if in fact she chooses to use her power in such a way that King Nash is asking of her. But with so much at stake, what choice does she have?
Although I wouldn't go straight to saying that Fire's another favorite of mine, I very much enjoyed her character in this. Ms. Cashore has a way of writing her characters, be they male or female, and making them so that you can't help but like them, if not love them. Against all odds, I really liked Fire as a heroine. I say against all odds because, despite her instant appeal to all who encounter her (view spoiler)[and despite the fact that I wasn't crazy to find out that Fire had an intimate relationship with another woman when she was younger. I don't mean any offense to anyone reading this that may be into that sort of thing, or that may be a lesbian themselves, that's just not something that I like in a heroine. (This of course is derived from the fact that I have a little obsession with anything man/male/boy/anyone whom you can apply this symbol to.) (hide spoiler)], a theme that seems to be growing among authors (and one I'm not very fond of), I really liked her character. My interest in her grew over the course of the novel, and by the end I had a great sense of respect and admiration for her.
Brigan has a sort of roguish charm and aloofness about him that makes him seem attractive and fasincating. Brigan's character slowly evolves during the course of the novel, and by the end of Fire you're completely in his snare.
I'd say the most disappointing thing about this novel is its lack of romance. Fire and Brigan don't have nearly enough page time together. But the moments that they did have were enjoyable, however few and far between. It isn't really until the last quarter of Fire when their relationship starts to heat up and become something more than just friends conversing. Initially, Brigan isn't very fond of Fire and all of her Monster glory. But he has good reason: Fire's father, Cansrel, controlled and manipulated Brigan's father, Nax, while he was the king of the Dells. This eventually led to Nax's death. Between this and the fact that Brigan knows the harsh and potentially evil nature all Monsters have, he isn't willing to show Fire any kindness upon first meeting her, let alone fall down in adoration and lust, as most who come into contact with Fire do. But it's actually not very far into the novel before Brigan begins treating Fire with respect and even as if she were a friend or ally of his. This, of course, given Fire's inhuman beauty and allure, isn't exactly the kind of attention Fire is used to getting from men or from anyone, for that matter. But Fire enjoys having someone be kind to her without expecting something more from her. And Brigan's kindness and friendship eventually causes Fire to fall for him. And I think Brigan's eventual declaration of love is done perfectly, and not a moment too soon:
FAVORITE QUOTE: "The moment I began to love you was the moment when you saw your fiddle smashed on the ground. And you turned away from me and cried against your horse. Your saddness is one of the things that makes you beautiful to me, don't you see that?"
See? Ms. Cashore's writting really is amazing. Here's another quote I'd like to share with you:
"We're going to win this war, you know." he said. "Now that our armies are together. But the world doesn't care who wins. It'll go on spinning. No matter how many people are slaughtered tomorrow. No matter if you and I are slaughtered." After a moment, he added, "I almost wish it wouldn't, if we aren't allowed to go on spinning with it."
Fire actually has another love interest in this: Archer. (For those who're not into the love-triangle, like me, you don't have to worry: it's not one of those annoying types of love triangles, it's well played out IMO.) I liked his character a great deal, actually, even though he's a complete rake and may not have his priorities straight, he still came off as likable and a nice edition to the plot. (view spoiler)[And it was very sad when he died. I couldn't help but feel sorry for Fire in her situation. I can't imagine being not only friends but lovers with someone only to have them die after being so close to them for so long. (hide spoiler)] However, I do think more time could've been spent developing Fire and Brigan's relationship, rather than dealing with Fire and Archer's.
One thing about Kristin Cashore, she's not afraid to write about grief and sorrow in her novels. You'll be going along reading and, usually towards the end, she'll drop some sort of unexpected literary bomb on you. (view spoiler)[Besides Archer's death, I thought that Fire losing two of her fingers seemed like a daring thing to write into the story. Much like Po's blindness in Graceling. (hide spoiler)] Most authors seem to stray away from anything they think might offend, anger, or disappoint their readers. Not Ms. Cashore.
A few words on the audio itself:
Xanthe Elbrick, the narrator of Fire, does a rather amazing job of differentiating her own voice from the plethora of characters featured in Fire. This woman is talented, I tell you! She truly deserves an award for her narrative in this. Her talent is definitely of a higher caliber than most in her profession.
Taking everything into consideration I'd have to say that I really liked Fire, albeit not as much as Graceling, and I'm very much looking forward to reading Bitterblue when it releases in September of this year. (It's set to have Po and Katsa in it! *happy dance*)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)