Oh, book. How shall I discuss you? On the one hand, I enjoyed you, and you did some pretty awesome things. But on the other hand, parts of you were just not good. Let's discuss.
The Chosen Prince is primarily about Alexos, a prince and the presumed hero of Athene. According to signs at his birth, Alexos is supposed to end the never-ending war that's plagued his country. Of course, with great power, blah blah blah, so poor Alexos feels the weight of his destiny every second of his life. He is expected to be unrealistically mature in all things, perfect in every way, a general to inspire his classmates but also set apart. He's a miserable kid, and I felt pretty awful for him. The only truly bright spot in his life is his little brother, the universally adored younger prince, Teo. What a sweet little munchkin.
Okay, so, I can't really talk about the plot. I honestly remember more about the Wishbone version of The Tempest rather than the original Shakespeare, and I don't want to risk ruining anything for anyone. But a THING happens to poor Alexos, and it just about broke my heart. Well, two things, really, but the first one just made me generally sad while the second made me gasp on the train. Great heavens to betsy.
I wanted so badly to adore this book. I did in parts, like during the aforementioned THINGS, the lovely history of Alexos's world (complete with a curse straight from Zeus!), or during the bro moments between Alexos, Leander, and Peles. The characters themselves are pretty neat, and I would love to see what could be done with them by, say, Megan Whalen Turner. Dig right in there! Gimme some depth and heartache! But sadly, I did not get what I wanted.
First of all, the present tense kept bumping me straight out of the story. I don't know why, but I think the story would have been better in the past tense. Also, the narrator is extremely omniscient and indulges in far too much telling over showing. ("He rises from the stool now. She marvels at his maneuvers..." etc.) Every time I tried to dig into the characters, the telling pushed me back. Also distancing? The preaching. Holy wow. Granted, a lot of classic fables were made to impart a moral, but man, this one lays it on pretty thick. Suliman, sweetheart that he is, is preachy as all get-out, and the ending is one slopping spoonful of morality. Also, there are some disgustingly convenient plot points that I just can't deal with. I don't know if they were in the original work (I suspect some were, but hopefully not all), but honestly. It is okay to deviate from the source material when writing a retelling, especially if the source material includes a literal deus ex machina in the form of visions in the fog. Yeesh. There are other things, too, but you can see those in the "Subtracted" section at the bottom of this review.
I wish I had a magic wand. Or Athena's favor. Something that I could use to boop this manuscript on its figurative nose and magically give it the depth and technique it deserves. I guess I should have skipped this retelling and gone straight to Shakespeare. Poor, poor Alexos.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"Well, the goddess Athene is, as you know, famously merciful and kind. And I think she must have looked down on me that day—so tiny and defenseless, you know, with all that hard work ahead of me—and felt pity in her heart. So she changed her mind and gave me one gift after all. What do you suppose it was?"
"It was you, Teo. The goddess gave me you."
Points Added For: The relationships between Alexos, Teo, Leander, Peles, and Suliman. All quite sweet. Love the history lesson at the beginning of the book, too.
Points Subtracted For: Present tense, an intrusively omniscient narrator, poor wording (I really don't think four-year-old Teo would think of anyone as "gaunt, wizened, and brooding"), far too much preaching, weird time jumps, a weak romance, and irritatingly convenient plot devices.
Good For Fans Of: Greek myths, The Tempest, stories with morals
Notes For Parents: Death, attempted murder, physical violence against a female, one kiss.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
Black Dove, White Raven (BDWR), first and foremost, is a book about family. Emilia Menotti and Teo Gedeyon are family, despite their different skin and lack of blood ties. Rhoda Menotti and Delia Dupré, Emilia's and Teo's mamas, were family through and through, both in the air flying their stunts and on the ground in Jim Crow America. When Delia dies, family means Emilia, Teo, and Rhoda moving to Ethiopia where Teo won't be shunned because of the color of his skin, and where Rhoda can fly and heal in equal measure. Family means sticking together when the Italians crowd the Ethiopian border, emboldened by Mussolini and the apathetic response from the League of Nations. Family means speaking with only a Nod, and staring into the teeth of war together, hand in hand.
I know when I pick up an Elizabeth Wein book, I am going to learn something. I don't learn something because her books are teaching books, full of lessons and morals solemnly handed down through mouthpiece characters. I learn because these books are alive. When I read Code Name Verity, I am in France, trapped in a Gestapo prison or hiding in a trunk, or in England, flying over a mist-veiled countryside. When I read Rose Under Fire, I am in the Ravensbruck concentration camp, sharing a thin bunk with three other girls and watching the clouds float by during roll call. And when I read Black Dove, White Raven, I am in Mennonite Pennsylvania, attending air shows and riding trick ponies, and I am in pre-WWII Ethiopia, running barefoot across a coffee plantation and bidding friends selam and tafash. I learn because I am there. I learn because these are real people, living and breathing in real places, and I cannot help but be lost in their lives.
BDWR is a book that breathes history. The story is told through journals, flight logs, school essays, and fictional adventures, bound together by Emilia and given to the Emperor of Ethiopia. The first forty pages or so of the book take place in the American Heartland in the 1930s. It's all air shows, Mennonite farms, and life on the road with Black Dove and White Raven, two ladies with guts of steel, and their kids. It's also segregation and discrimination, no place for a little black boy with a white sister, so Rhoda packs up the kids and moves them to Ethiopia, Teo's ancestral home.
Ms. Wein first visited Ethiopia in the Lion Hunters series, and returning felt beyond strange and wonderful. If you've read LH, you'll find little moments to make you sigh with pleasure. If you haven't, what a treat you're in for. Progressive, unconquered Ethiopia, where the Ark of the Covenant is said to reside, where everyone walks in bare feet, where black men fly airplanes and emperors own lions. What better place for a story?
Tazma Meda is so far removed from any place I've ever experienced, but I felt like I was there with Emilia and Teo. I could feel the pride of the Ethiopian people, the only African land to remain uncolonized by a European nation, and the faith, too, in this ancient and deeply religious place. So much of this story seems to be told out of sheer love for the country, much in the same way we see England depicted in Code Name Verity. We see it from the air—the lands turned green after the rain; the grassy, windswept tableau of Delia's Dream; Aksum, nestled between the mountains and crowned with graves; and the high, wide spread of amebas, dotted with bearded vulture nests. We also see it from the ground, through the twisting, changing maze of Addis Ababa, the cool, painted walls of the chapel of St. Kristos Samra, and the honeycombed Beehive Hill. Love for Ethiopia—both the author's and the characters'—pours from every line.
But as with all Ms. Wein's other works, no depiction is left unbalanced. Progressive, modern Ethiopia is also a land of its own discrimination. Slavery is being ushered out, but some citizens born before the changing of the law remain in bondage, doomed by their age and their bloodline. Teo is seen as a future warrior of Ethiopia, but Emilia is a girl, good for medicine and baby-rearing, not spear-throwing. In her own words:
Equality comes in different forms, and it is a lot harder being a girl in Ethiopia than it was in Pennsylvania.
BDWR is also a book about war, though more indirectly than Ms. Wein's other books. Emilia and Teo are not soldiers. They are not even adults. They are civilian children, and though that will mean little in years to come, it means enough in the beginning of the Italo-Ethiopian War. The menace in this story is subtle, the shadow of Italian invasion hovering over everyday things like school lessons and flight plans, the tension of the future spoiling evening meals and trips to the city. We know what's to come in this war and the next, but Teo and Emilia don't, and it's hard to say who suffers worse. And when the first blow of war does come, it arrives in full force. For all Ms. Wein's books engage in war, war itself is never glorified. Combat is full of breathless, daring moments, but also it is brutal, it is ugly, and it hits the innocents the hardest. War, at its root, is an injustice perpetrated by the strong upon the weak. If you're expecting the trademark Wein twist to the gut, this book does not fail to deliver.
But BDWR is also a book of hope. CNV and RUF had very clear, definitive statements that served as their themes. ("I have told the truth" and "I will tell the world," respectively.) BDWR's statement is less defined, less prominent, but I think the entire book can be summed up in Emilia's words from her very first letter:
I have nothing to lose. I am going to dare it. I will aim for the sun.
Emilia and Teo aim for the sun. They strive to rise above the horrors of war and the injustice of discrimination. They fly both physically and metaphorically, bolstered by hope and faith. Airplanes play a huge role in this book, of course, but faith has a part to play as well, be it faith in God, faith in the lift of an airplane's wings, or faith in each other. What's more beautiful than that?
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"You just have to be careful with Momma for a while," Teo told me. "She's broken. Like a jug with a broken handle that you try to glue back together. It looks all right, and it'll still hold water. It's still a good jug. But you better not ever try to pick it up by the handle. You have to wait for the glue to dry, and even then it might not hold."
Emmy and I are still Habte Sadek's favorite foreigners, and it is all because I wanted to look at his feet when I was eleven years old! But it never hurts to be polite to people.
Spiderwebs joined together can catch a lion.
"Teach your boy to fly, and he will be safe from spears and antique rifles."
"I don't want him to go to war at all!"
"When it comes, you will have no choice. The only way to save him is to lift him above the crowd."
"Black Dove, let's write. Let's work on a story. Let's work on Glassland."
"Make me a prisoner in the Fortress of Clarity."
"Got to rescue you."
But while they stayed down, rolling around and trying to kill each other, Em jumped to her feet.
Her costumes sometimes have little finishing touches that no one can see. She hadn't told me about this one.
"Don't you ever do that to me."
"You know you'll never make as much of a fool of yourself as Horatio Augustus. So I won't have to."
Points Added For: The subtle nods to the other books, the gorgeous prose, the tender relationships, the horrors of war, the joys of flight, making me want to visit Ethiopia, making me hungry for Ethiopian food, non-crazy Christians, that shot to my heart (TWICE), the hand squeezes, the Nod, Uncle Mateos, Sinidu, Colonel Billy Cooper, the firefight and Em's bravery.
Points Subtracted For: At most, I wish the story'd had more bite to it, and a few sequences left me a bit confused. But otherwise, I'm good.
Good For Fans Of: Elizabeth Wein's other books, flight, early 20th century history, books set in non-American/European countries, books about family.
Notes For Parents: Language, death, racism, sexism, warfare.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
This book is such a sad trombone. It started beautifully, packed to the gills with 60s flavor and music business lingo. I felt like I had legitimately traveled back in time! But oh, how this book dragged. The writing really needed a couple more edits, the pacing was really wonky, the love interest liked the heroine because she wasn't "like other girls," and the plot... Let's just say the plot wasn't much of a surprise, and it certainly didn't deliver what the cover copy promised. If you're going to hype a book set in the "cultural tipping point" of America, give me some culture that's tipping! The consequences in this book were at next to nothing, both on a societal and an individual level. I wanted something with bite and instead felt like I was being gummed to death.
[Actual rating is more like 1.5]
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration....more
Scarlet was an introduction, full of flying knives, prickly girls, and angsty love triangles. I loved it. Lady Thief was a meaty middle book. It looked at the darkness and pain in Scarlet and laughed throatily before turning the dial to eleven. Gone was the love triangle, but boy oh boy was the angst still there. The book hit the market and lo, the blogosphere was filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And Lion Heart? Lion Heart was a celebration, a full-throated fete with life and love, sword fights and derring-do, reunions and, yes, happy endings.
I didn't expect to laugh as much as I did in this book. Scarlet and company have always been funny, but the giggle-to-gasp ratio in this book was closer to the one in Scarlet than in Lady Thief. A big part of that is due to Allan O'Dale, the charming bard we met in the last book. I love him. He's delightful, witty, more than a bit silly, seems to have zero interest in Scarlet as a love interest but is an unwavering ally, has fantastic banter with another character (whom I also loved but will not name because SPOILERS, though you can probably piece it together below), and it doesn't hurt that I picture Allan as Steve Talley.
Scarlet, of course, always, holds her own amid the menfolk. They fret and fuss over her, but she plows on through, getting stuff done. She's joined in this book by some pretty awesome girls, too. I was a little more iffy on Eleanor in this book, only because she's still wildly unhelpful in facing the Prince John problem and Margaret waxed and waned in my affection. But we were given a better look at Isabel, once again viewing her through the words of someone who loves her. John's Bess makes an appearance and... well, that's spoilery, so moving on! GUYS. There is a PIRATE QUEEN in this book. PIRATE QUEEN!!! I want to be her.
Of course, there is still angst and longing, bloodshed and despair. If everything went smoothly, we wouldn't have a story! Not everyone gets happy endings, to my sorrow. But that ending. Scarlet, our scrappy little thief, who has fought her way through so much over her short lifetime, gets one bright, shining moment where everything coming out of her mouth makes you want to bear your teeth in triumph and howl. That moment is THE moment of all moments, and this book is Scarlet's coup.
For reference, my Goodreads updates:
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"A knight," Allan muttered. "As if I would ever be a knight. I'm far too handsome to be a knight."
Allan sighed, lying down in the grass. "Fine. I'm too pretty for all this serious business."
"I can make you a little uglier, if you wish," David said.
Allan lifted his head. "So you agree—I'm pretty," he said, smiling.
"Christ," David muttered, putting his head in his hands.
"We could leave him here, fair thief," he confided in a none-too-quiet whisper.
"If you can forgo your penchant for big, strong men."
"He is required protection by the queen. And it has nothing to do with my penchants, Allan—I just send to be in the same business as big, strong men, only they need to be twice as tall and twice as heavy to do what I can in half the time," I snapped.
"You need to think!" he snapped.
"No!" I snapped back. "You need to think. Like a thief—like a girl. Like all the people that get their power and their choices taken away from them. I won't be one of them."
"You used to be afraid to get so close to me," I told him, and he met my eyes. "That was a good instinct."
Points Added For: The whole crew (esp. Much), Allan, David, Kate, happy endings, sad endings, victories, bickering and banter.
Points Subtracted For: I wouldn't have minded just a weeeee bit more despair, honestly. :)
Good For Fans Of: The rest of the series, Robin Hood, stubborn girls who demolish the patriarchy.
Notes For Parents: Violence, death, attempted rape, PTSD, language, childbirth, sex, making out.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
I picked up this book knowing it would be outside my comfort zone. I've never read one of Mr. Sedgwick's books before, and I was eager to see how we got along, but very little about the description promised a tailor-made Shae experience. Linked short stories? One of which is about a witch hunt? (Oh no.) The description reeked of mysticism (not my favorite), but the possibility of history and science being linked was too intriguing to pass up. Also, I'm a sucker for a pretty cover, and LOOK AT THAT BEAUTY.
The book begins with a science lesson, which was both a surprisingly slow way to start and yummy brain food for me. And then the first story starts. It's in verse. Oh no. I don't do verse. And it's about a cavewoman? I'm reading a short story in verse about a cavewoman. Much later, I went back and read that other reviewers had disliked this story. I, surprisingly, didn't mind it so much. I'm still not a fan of verse (especially verse that doesn't rhyme, because why not just write powerful prose then?), and the story itself had a very mystical flavor to it, but it wasn't too bad. I liked that our protagonist was both hunter and gatherer, despite being female, and I liked the creepy cave and the hints at language and writing. Also, it was fun to tell coworkers that I was reading a short story in verse about a caveman war and watch their reactions. Pure gold.
The second story is the witch hunt story. I held on for a bit, putting up with evil-obsessed priests, selfish women, and lecherous men. But honestly, once it became clear that the protagonist (a sweet girl named Anna Tunstall) was headed for nothing but trouble, I bailed. Nopety nope nope.
The third story was a little better. The main character for this one was actually a male doctor starting his employment at an insane asylum where he meets a patient with a spiral phobia. It's a rather gothic sort of story, filled with ableist language (the 1920s isn't the most enlightened time for the psychologically different), dead wives, and white men on a power trip. The story isn't a happy one, but I held out to the end.
The fourth story was my favorite by far. It follows Bowman, a monitor that wakes once a year to oversee the status of the 500 other people asleep aboard an interstellar spaceship bound for a new home planet. It's so overwhelmingly nerdy, and I loved it! Through Bowman, we learn about the progression of civilization on Earth, the quest to free up resources by shooting colonists into space, the logistics of sending those colonists lightyears away to a new planet, etc. I ate up every detail. Then, as the story progresses, Bowman discovers that he is not the only being awake on the ship... and that the sleepers are mysteriously dying. It's creepy and horrible with a revelation about the nature of the voyage that made me gasp.
Unfortunately, despite the interesting concept and the joy I received from the final story, this isn't a book that I enjoyed as a whole. Overall, it came across as being unnecessarily pretentious. While I appreciate high-minded concepts and daring forms, creative execution means nothing if the stories themselves aren't good. The running theme in the four stories is the prevalent nature of spirals and helixes, a ubiquity that has been discussed in high school classrooms with a lesson on Fibonacci all over the world. However, in the narrative itself, this theme too often presents itself through the protagonists staring fixedly on a spiral object, as if staring and thinking long enough will unlock the secrets of the universe. Not only is this method nauseatingly pretentious and philosophical, but it's also boring.
Also, despite having half the stories helmed by teenage girls, this book treats women horrifically. In every single story (even the two with female protagonists), women are only discussed in terms of their use to men. In the first book, the cavewoman is repeatedly described as having bled (gone through puberty) but not yet produced children. Her primary (indeed, practically her only) descriptor is her ability to give birth. In the second story, Anna and her fellow women are harangued, solicited, stalked, and assaulted by men for their beauty, ability to bear children, and/or the lust they inspire—to the point of injury, abuse, and even death. In the third story, women are again placed at the bottom of the social ladder and are discussed only in terms of what they can provide the men around them, be it relief, sex, or companionship. They have no agency, no voice, and no recourse against the men who routinely do them wrong. In the final book, only two women appear at all. One is dead before she even appears and is admired (read: lusted over) solely for her physical beauty, and the other is important only for (view spoiler)[her potential to be the mother of a new hybrid race. (hide spoiler)]
I've heard that Ghosts is very unlike Mr. Sedgwick's other work, and I hope this is true, as I was unimpressed with what this book had to offer.
Points Added For: SCIENCE! An interesting concept.
Points Subtracted For: Execution of the aforementioned concept, treatment of women, being boring.
Good For Fans Of: Crossover novels, linked short stories, mysticism
Notes For Parents: Death, infant death, adultery, off-page sex, assault, kissing, rape/abuse, murder, light language (only one profanity that I remember.)
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.["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"]>...more
Warning: This review will likely contain spoilers for previous books. You have been warned.
I want you guys to promise me something. When you get around to reading this book, once you're finished, please take a moment to appreciate how very fitting the title is. Because it IS fitting. The series has grown with its characters, moving from the basics of spy work and rudimentary knowledge of the different players on the board (E&E) to a burgeoning skill set and a broader view of the board as a whole (C&C) to now a more adult layer of danger and duplicity as the game as a whole is unveiled and Sophronia and her friends battle for stakes that are higher than ever. AND THERE ARE BOYS.
That's right, Soap, Felix, and Pillover (and Captain Niall!) are back to help the ladies of the Academy save the world once more. I'm always happy to have more Soap, but our lovely sootie isn't just around for his good looks and tender ways. Sophronia is older now. She's at an age where romance becomes a distinct possibility. She and her friends have even begun—gasp—seduction lessons! The specter of romance isn't the only question in Sophronia's future, however. After the interest shown to her by Lord Akeldama in the last book, she's started to seriously think about her life after school. Who will be her sponsor? Whom will she fight for—Crown, Pickleman, werewolf, vampire, or an otherwise unspecified party? Whose side is she on in the tussle to control England? And Sophronia isn't the only one to think about the future. Both Felix and Soap ramp up their claims on her heart, but with the increased affections comes some intense soul-searching about race and class and how important each is (or isn't) when it comes to love, which I completely adored.
Actually, waistcoats abound throughout the book for multiple reasons. In addition to the heavier presence of Soap and Felix in the forefront of Sophronia's mind, other relationships begin to bud. I don't want to ruin anything, but one ship that I've been eyeing from the beginning received some quality page time (to my delight), while other possible pairing is hinted at (I strongly approve, if it ever plays out.) But never fear, the boys support (or hinder) the girls in their own way but never take over the story. As the agents in training, the girls run the show and look over the boys like the untrained citizens that they are. (One of my favorite parts is when flighty Dimity is put in charge of a slightly insulted Felix.) Also, Sophronia, Dimity, Sidheag, and Agatha don waistcoats of their own. That's right, we get disguises in this book! Hooray! Sophronia has always been diligent about finding her own intrigues, but until now, these intrigues have always orbited around her school. In this book, she finally gets to strike out on her own, a change that is suited to the more mature flavor of the book.
As for weaponry, weapons and things that go boom play a larger part in this book than in the rest of the series thus far. With bigger stakes come bigger and deadlier toys. From Sophronia's latest weapon of choice (that gorgeous bladed fan on the cover) to a secret plot to control and destroy the elite of England, weapons and what they can do in the wrong hands move a huge chunk of the plot.
Basically, if you want all the hijinks and escapades of the previous two books with a slightly more mature stable of topics and a slathering of swoony but not too serious romance, you're going to love Waistcoats & Weaponry.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"Lady Linette has been teaching us seduction techniques." She lowered her eyes and then looked off across the gray moor, presenting him with her profile, which was rather a nice one, or so Mademoiselle Geraldine told her.
That statement successfully shocked [spoiler]. He swallowed a few times before saying, his voice almost as high as it had been a year ago, "Really?"
"Once we know what's really going on, then we choose."
"That's a very murky position."
"So's the weather. But this is England, we must learn to live with uncertainty."
"Whoa there, miss, that's enough of that!"
"Oh dear me, are you hurt? Have I hurt you more?"
"I think most of me's fine, miss. Just, please, leave off the touching."
"I do apologize. I was only checking."
"Whoa, now. Not that I didn't like it, miss. You can check me much as you like, only later."
Points Added For: SOAP (always), the various romances, the slightly more mature tone, cross-dressing!, some game-changers in that ending (woah), a scene that someone needs to make fan art of STAT, just being an overall rollickingly fun book.
Points Subtracted For: ?
Good For Fans Of: Gail Carriger's books, especially the previous books in the series; competent heroines; Leviathan by Scott Westerfield; paranormal creatures in a historical, steampunk setting.
Notes For Parents: Some violence, but nothing graphic. Some naked men, but again, nothing graphic.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.
2014 has been SLAYING it when it comes to sequels, and I'm happy to say that Dangerous Deceptions continues the trend. Our daring Peggy is back in the court of King George, now only as herself, her charade as the slain Francesca having been laid to rest in the last book. Now Peggy seems to have more trouble than she can handle with friends who feel betrayed, another possible Jacobite plot, an insistent betrothed, trouble in the royal marriage, and her Uncle Pierpont's mysterious behavior.
First off, let me say, God bless the French! Peggy and her fellow noblewomen continue to suffer under the outrageous fashions and ridiculous makeup trends of the court, but thanks to a fashion revolution in Versailles, "natural" hair is in vogue. It's such a little detail, but I could feel my brain unclenching at the realization that I wouldn't have to picture everyone in those stupid wigs any longer.
The missing wigs are just one of many changes that came as a result of the last book. With the departure of Mrs. Abbott, Peggy has placed herself in the care of a new maid, the "olive-skinned" Libby. Libby remains a cypher even by the end of the story, but I like her. She's smart, keeps Peggy in line, and has the makings of a spy herself. Peggy needs Libby at her back with her sudden lack of support from the other women. Sophy is as catty as ever, and she attempts to woo Mary and Molly to her side, especially now that Molly feels the sting of Peggy's deception. Also, the maids of Princess Caroline as a whole are flustered with the arrival of the newest maid, Mrs. Howard, the Prince's rumored mistress. In the court at large, Peggy's old fiance Sebastian has reappeared to make waves. Even Peggy's room isn't a safe place with the ghost of the man killed on her behalf plaguing her dreams.
What fun this was! With Peggy's charade lifted, the lines of intrigue felt clearer. Though there were still many strands to follow as they twisted through the courts, tying interests abroad with powers overseas, the plot as a whole felt less cluttered and easier to track. I like that Peggy's trials and conundrums came staggered, with no extra weight laid on external, political intrigue versus on the smaller puzzles closer to home. This allowed for a better view of the players involved. Some, like Uncle Pierpont and Sebastian, were familiar, while historical and new faces, like those of Walpole and Mrs. Howard, were given room to blossom. Mrs. Howard was especially interesting, as the author frames her as a sympathetic character even as she stands as a wedge between the Prince and Princess. Uncle Pierpont and Sebastian—both entirely unsympathetic in the last book—are given more nuance while remaining internally consistent with their previous portrayals. (Side note: Olivia remains fantastic. That is all.)
And what a climax! Oh my goodness, my heart is still racing just a bit. The high point of this book felt like a violin string at breaking point. By the apogee of the plot, Peggy plays whac-a-mole with her enemies, defeating them soundly first in a battle of wits and then in one of action. No matter which kind of showdown you like, there's a heart-stopping sequence for you! I gobbled down both scenes during my break at work and finished feeling completely out of breath. It was EXHILARATING.
I cannot wait for the next installment. With each book, Peggy and her little crew becomes more and more impressive, the villains more and more vile, and the adventures more breath-taking and death-defying than the last. All hail Peggy Fitzroy!
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quote:
"Uncle, I would not marry Mr. Sandford even if I were dying of the pox and could have the satisfaction of taking him with me."
Points Added For: Peggy and her wit, Olivia and her directness, Libby and her exasperation, adding depth to characters (like Uncle Pierpont), THOSE CLIMACTIC SCENES, the treatment of Mrs. Howard, Monsieur Janvier, being easier to follow.
Points Subtracted For: I still am a bit meh on Matthew.
Good For Fans Of: Clever and independent ladies, spies, tricksiness, political intrigue, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Maid of Secrets by Jennifer McGowan.
Notes For Parents: Kissing, language, drinking, smoking, violence against animals.
Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
I think you have to be in just the right mood to appreciate this book, which thankfully I was. Despite the sweet, romantic cover, Love by the Morning Star is less about tender, gentle romance than you might think. It's flippant and farcical, a bit manic and definitely irreverent. In my notes, I described the narration as "omnipresent jaded view," as the lens follows all of the characters in and out with a distinctly dry ennui. The characters themselves are a mixed bag—from spoiled and clueless Anna and Pollyanna-meets-Amelia-Bedelia Hannah to Traudly (one half of the Double Transvestite Tango) and real-life human, Prince George!
The plot is uneven in places, and the story is not for those who enjoy earnest storylines. However, if you enjoy the frenetic slapstick of 1940s comedies (think: Arsenic and Old Lace or Bringing Up Baby) and/or Shakespearean soap opera-ish misunderstandings and humor (think: A Midsummer Night's Dream or Much Ado About Nothing), you will enjoy this book.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
Oh, don't mind me. I'm just over here giggling like a tiny child. Honestly, I wasn't sure how I would like SSoPP. I wasn't a fan of Ms. Berry's YA novel, but other readers seemed to really enjoy this new adventure. Also, come on. Seven prim and proper Victorian schoolgirls don't just try to solve a murder but also hide it? This has "Shae" written all over it!
Admittedly, the beginning was a bit rough. And by beginning, I truly do mean the beginning. Before the story starts, we're given a list of the students (our main characters), along with a list of characters whom we will NOT meet in the book. What? Basically, before the book's even begun, we're given a full paragraph on each girl's backstory under the guise of learning about their various relatives. I was having none of that and so skipped the section without shame.
Perhaps I shouldn't have, because my other issue with the beginning of the book was that the girls were so hard to keep track of! Each girl is addressed not only by name but also by description—Dear Roberta, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Dull Martha, Stout Alice, Smooth Kitty, Pocked Louise, and Dour Elinor. The names were long and therefore wearying, but there were so many girls that whenever the author dropped the adjectives, I went scrambling. Wait, which one is Louise? Is that the Dull one or the Stout one? And Mary Jane, she's... disgraceful? I think? Or is that this Roberta person?
I can't wait to read other reviews to see if others had the same problem, because boy, was I floundering! However, after a few chapters, both the story and I settled into a sort of rhythm, and then things really took off. The girls were just sitting down for dinner with their headmistress and her bachelor brother when both adults dropped dead—poisoned by the very veal they always refused to share with the girls. Rather than report the deaths to the authorities, the young ladies, under the direction of Smooth Kitty, vote to cover up the murders so that they could stay at their school and live their lives the way they wish rather than return to unloving, unsympathetic homes. The motivation may sound a little weak, but it makes sense in context. The young ladies one and all do not fit the standard Victorian mold for chaste and elegant womanhood. They were all sent to the school to rid them of their "flaws," and to return home would be to return to those who gave them their adjectival nicknames in the first place. To stay is to be free.
SSoPP has some serious themes (the above is one of them), but it's not a book you're meant to take seriously. All of the characters are larger-than-life, be they Reverend Rumsey, the aptly named teetotalling preacher with a suspiciously bright red nose, or the aggravatingly intrusive Miss Fingle, the local gossipmonger. Once I was able to accustom myself to the flippant tone of the text, I was really able to snuggle in and get comfy. For anyone out there starting SSoPP in the same boat, listen to me. Just hold on! Keep pushing forward, because once the girls really start working together, you're going to LOVE it.
The best comparison I have is Arsenic and Old Lace, the old Cary Grant movie. There's murder, coverups, secrets, wit, slapstick humor, and enough anxiety for those covering up to give an elephant a heart attack. (Are elephants prone to cardiac arrest?) It's hilarious the talents these girls display and the lengths they go to to save their second home. They work together as a unit to lie, deceive, disguise, and misdirect, and it's fabulous. Each girl loves up to her own dubious nickname but also proves that there is so much more to each of them. Stout Alice may, indeed, by rather stout, but she's also a superb actress. Dour Elinor may be rather creepy, but she's the one with the know-how to identify the poison used in the murder. Smooth Kitty may be suspiciously slick, but without her brains, the entire sham would have fallen apart. Pocked Louise may be scarred as well as the youngest of the group, but once she's set to the task of solving the murder, nothing can slow her down.
Actually, I think Louise was my favorite of all of them, as she's one of the only girls not embroiled in a side romance. Not that the romances were bad. They were actually rather cute. (The romances also made me wonder whether this book was actually YA, but the publisher says MG—I suspect because of Louise—so I'll stick with that.) However, since Louise doesn't have a boy to fret over, she's free to hunt down the killer. AND FUN WAS HAD BY ALL! Really, truly, what a lovely little mystery. I guessed half of the solution a little over 100 pages into the story, but I had to piece together the rest as I went along. And even though the pieces and parts were fairly traditional, the entire package ended up being rather knotted.
I recommend this book for anyone who loves fun romps, Arsenic and Old Lace, girls who buck societal norms and use their brains, Victorian settings, witty farces, and knotty murders. If you have trouble in the beginning, keep pushing forward, because the carefully calibrated teamwork between these seven girls is one for the ages. Way to kick butt, ladies!
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"A toast," Smooth Kitty cried, feeling almost giddy, "to self-government. Saint Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies will be run by young ladies from this point forward. Hear, hear!" Great applause.
"To independence!" added Pocked Louise. "No fussy old widows telling us when not to speak, and how to set the spoons when an Earl's niece comes to supper. And telling us to leave scientific experiment to the men." Teacup toasts in support of Louise.
"To freedom!" chimed in Disgraceful Mary Jane. "No curfews and evil eyes and lectures on morals and propriety." Loud, if nervous, cheering.
"To womankind," proclaimed Stout Alice. "Each of us girls free to be what she wishes to be, without glum and crotchety Placketts trying to make us into what we're not." Tremendous excitement.
"To sisterhood," said Dear Roberta, "and standing by each other, no matter what."
"I don't condone killing, but if killing happens anyway, then I think women go about it much more sensibly. Leave it to men to be loud and violent and messy about the business. It's egotistical of them. It's not enough to eliminate their enemy. No. They must conquer them face to face and watch them plead for mercy, whereas women dispatch victims quickly and silently."
"Men might say poison isn't sporting."
"Yes, and men think that organizing parties of dozens of riders and hounds to chase down one poor fox is sporting. Men's opinions are irrelevant."
Points Added For: FANTASTIC female friendships, girls taking care of business without the help of males, Pocked Louise being awesome, Stout Alice being awesome, Smooth Kitty being awesome, making me giggle.
Points Subtracted For: A slow and confusing beginning, putting Dear Roberta at the center of the cover (for real? not Smooth Kitty?), being a little vague in whether it's YA or MG.
Good For Fans Of:Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, The North Avenue Irregulars, fun romps, Arsenic and Old Lace, girls who buck societal norms and use their brains, Victorian settings, witty farces, and knotty murders
Notes For Parents: Death, some implied kissing.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Full disclosure: I am an ardent Claire Legrand fangirl. I adore her middle grade books and shove them into my TTT lists whenever I can. I converse with her often online and have even met her in person. She's wonderfully kind and funny, and I was so looking forward to her first foray into YA. Mechanical dragons! A Nutcracker retelling! Girls with knives! I was ready to love this book. It was a Shae book. I could feel it in my BONES.
Unfortunately, my bones are liar mcliarpants. I honestly can't remember the last time I mourned over a negative review like this. I've avoided even thinking about this book for over a month just so I wouldn't have to write this review. And now I just want to rip the band-aid off and be done with it, so buckle up.
The beginning was really intriguing. In the prologue, we learn about Cane, one of the extra pieces of the human world that fell off and made its own world. It's a fantastic way to wed the sci-fi concept of alternate or parallel dimensions with the magic of The Nutcracker. Clara was also fun in the beginning. She has to juggle so many different aspects of who she is, many of them conflicting and uncomfortable. She is the prim and proper eldest daughter of the mayor, a perfectly demure young lady furthering her saintly mother's legacy. She's a facade, a respectable front for her mayor-father's illicit connections within the underworld gang Concordia. She's a caring heart who has to endorse a crummy homeless shelter as a PR stunt. She's Godfather Drosselmeyer's pupil in hand-to-hand combat and weaponry.
I couldn't quite get in the groove with the prose, but I assumed that I would settle in soon enough. We meet Dr. Victor, a friend of Clara's father who is known for his squicky experiments on homeless females and who also has an outsized fascination with Clara. As a reader, this sort of thing makes me uncomfortable, especially since a villain's creepy obsession with the MC is too often used as a shortcut to classify the character as A Very Bad Guy. However, I was willing to hold my peace for a time, because I found Clara's response (guilt, self-blame) to be interesting and psychologically consistent in a way that's not usually discussed outside of YA "issue" books.
And then things got weird. In the corner of Godfather's shop is a life-sized metal statue of a knight, one that Clara has whispered to and confided in her entire life. One that she has become increasingly obsessed with. Like, really obsessed.
[Clara] used the statue to pull herself to her feet—and promptly forgot to breathe. The hard lines of the statue's thighs, belly, chest, scraped against her skin, snagging at the cotton of her chemise, and she found herself moving slowly to prolong the contact. Molding herself to the metal, she sighed. Her palms slick with sweat, she slid them up the statue's chest to cup the chiseled, handsome jaw, and pressed herself closer.
That's a direct quote of the main character rubbin' up on a metal man. I can't make this stuff up. It was like watching someone feel up a mannequin, made even more uncomfortable by Clara's declarations of how attracted she is to the statue, of how she just can't help herself, etc. I know Clara doesn't know there's a real man inside that statue, but we know, and her willingness to give up her own agency and blame this inanimate object for her lack of self-control and common sense too closely mirrors Dr. Victor.
So my enthusiasm dipped, but I soldiered on. Stuff happens. Dr. Victor is evil for the sake of being evil, the bad soldiers from Cane show up in NYC and attack Drosselmeyer and the statue, the latter breaks free of his prison and appears nekkid but ready for a fight before he and Clara portal-hop into Cane. Turns out Sexy Statue is actually the Crown Prince Nicholas of Cane and had been magically encased in metal by the half-faery usurper to the throne, Anise.
Cane itself was pretty interesting. In some ways, Cane is very much a parallel world to modern times, far more technologically advanced than Clara's late 19th century New York. It is a land with CCTV, power lines, high-powered trains, and televisions, but the technology is powered by magic, not science. I did what I could to focus on Cane and the world-building, because—let's be honest—Clara and Prince Nicholas were less than compelling. There was banter for the sake of banter (did not feel in character at all), lots of tottering on Clara's part (does she have an inner ear issue?), and outsized emotions splattering everywhere. I'd love to see what a naturally expressive reader thought of Clara's emoting, because I found her exhausting. Now free from society's expectations, she rode the wave of every emotion and did so loudly. Up up UP the crest of attraction, down down dowwwwn into suspicion. WHEEEE adventure, booooo self-loathing. I was getting motion sickness. I could feel myself retreating from her, disconnecting to try to get a handle on all the internal and external reactions being thrown at me, most of which I couldn't understand in context. (Clara's sudden and deep suspicion of Nicholas, for instance, made no sense to me.)
Unfortunately, the odd sexuality from before reared its head again. For instance, in another situation, in another story, I would have found Anise completely fascinating. She's a villain who thinks she's the hero of the story (my favorite kind) and one whom isn't entirely unsympathetic. But she's also a captor who likes to sleep buck naked with her captive, and I got the impression we were secretly supposed to ship that? No. And then later, a disguised Clara is snuck into a "pleasure house" and forced to "perform" for the pimp, at which point I nearly chucked my ereader across the room.
If I were an eager freshman English major, I would make the supposition that Clara's hypersexualized journey is a commentary on the repressed Victorian society within which she was raised. Her obsession with and abhorrence of sex and her own body in the beginning reflects common contemporary attitudes and is therefore natural and realistic for her character, while the amoral body-loving displayed by Anise and the other faeries is a study in the opposite extreme. That's what I would say, anyways, if I were a presumptuous freshman English major. However, I am not and therefore feel uncomfortable calling clumsiness craft or vice-versa.
I don't know what the author's intent was regarding these themes. I'm not a mind reader. All I know is that this is not a story I could connect with or even condone. I was so skeeved out the entire time that I could barely pay attention to the story, and the parts that I did manage to grab onto were less than compelling. People died, and I didn't care. People kissed and I just about gagged. People talked about a "too-small girl smell," and I craughed.
Again, I don't know what the original intent of this story was. I do know that Claire Legrand is one of my favorite middle grade authors of all time. I wonder if this book would have been better served as an adult novel, or if the spark I was looking for would be lacking no matter the age category. In any case, this review is done and now I need to go sulk for another month or two.
Points Added For: A cool prologue, interesting (if confusing) world-building.
Points Subtracted For: Pretty much everything else. :(
Good For Fans Of: Sexytimes with inanimate objects, sexytimes with Stockholm Syndrome, banter for the sake of banter.
Notes For Parents: Language, violent deaths, making out, pleasure houses, voyeurism, drug use, nekkid times, Stockholm Sydrome.
Note: I received a digital review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
Note: This review may contain spoiler for The Burning Sky.
WARNING: This book will give you feels and flails. It will make you groan and wail. It will make you mutter things about "that witch, destiny." It may make you punch your coworker in the shoulder. (Sorry, Melissa.)
My attitude has undergone a complete change regarding this series. I don't know if you all remember, but I had a difficult time getting through The Burning Sky. I thought it was too derivative, too cliched, too novice. I almost DNF'd it before the action picked up and the romance started bubbling. When I reread TBS last month, I was more engaged, especially concerning the delicious chemistry between Titus and Iolanthe, but I worried about being tripped up by the sequel. But guys, let me tell you, Ms. Thomas has found her YA groove in this book.
From the very beginning, there's a clear difference in Ms. Thomas's comfort level. Whereas the first book was pretty straightforward, The Perilous Sea experiments with both point of view and chronology. In one narrative, we have Titus and Iolanthe (as Fairfax) returning to Eton after summer break. Titus is struggling under the burden of increased Atlantian scrutiny after the death of the Inquisitor, but he and Iolanthe are still determined to take down the Bane together. In the other narrative, we find Iolanthe and Titus lost in the Sahara Desert five months in the future. Neither can remember how they got there, what happened, or even their own names.
This gambit is a tricky one, but Ms. Thomas pulls it off. We have no idea what happened to our heroes, so the Sahara end of the tale is as new and treacherous for us as it is for them. Also, can you say romantic tension? I know exactly who Titus and Iolanthe are to each other even if they don't, so I spent much of the time yelling "KISS, YOU MORONS!!!" at these two confused kids. Their main concern, on the other hand, is finding answers. Who are they? Where are they? Why are they there? Why is Atlantis chasing them? Why does Atlantis seem to be going after the girl specifically? How did Titus hurt himself? Which just goes to show that they have their priorities in order better than I do. But seriously, I just want them to kiss.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="382"] THIS IS THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSE TO MY YOWLS, CHARACTERS![/caption]
Thankfully, the England end of the story had my back. Pre-amnesia Titus and Iolanthe are adorable together. Lots of kissing. ADORABLE KISSING. Also, lots of plot. As the synopsis states, Titus "makes a shocking discovery," and I just about lost my mind. I can't tell you what happens, of course, but I have may written a long string of "WHYYYYYYYYYY?!?!?!!?" in my notes and then whispered to my coworker that my book was blowing my mind. (This is pre-shoulder punch, so she was still willing to humor me.) Let's just say that England goes from Kissy Town to "Lizzie and Darcy accidentally meeting at Pemberley" levels of awkward and hurt.
Since I can't tell you what exactly blew my mind plot-wise, let me tell you about the other things I loved. First of all, I loved all the fate/destiny philosophizing that goes on. We know that Titus has been planning his future (or lack thereof) around the prophecies his mother wrote down in her diary. Literally everything from his first encounter with Iolanthe to his eventual death at the hand of the Bane has been foretold, and Titus believes that all he must do is live his life in the proper manner for those prophecies to come to pass. Other characters' philosophies fall along the continuum anywhere from using prophecies as a guideline but not a rule to a belligerent "screw prophecies!" While the faith in prophecies was necessary in TBS to move the plot along, I found the questioning in TPS refreshing, as it reminded me a lot of the wrangling in Suzanne Collins' Overlander series.
Another thing that I loved was how complex the characters have become. In TBS, Iolanthe and Titus stole the show, leaving the other characters to support from the shadows. In TPS, the secondary characters really start to come into their own. Kashkari and Wintervale in particular take large leaps forward in becoming integral parts of the plot. Lady Callista, Lady Wintervale, and Mrs. Hancock, three flat and minor baddies from the first book, are suddenly realized as key components with their own histories and motivations. Even Cooper, a character whose existence I barely even remembered, becomes more charming and memorable. And, of course, this wouldn't be a proper sequel without a deeper look into how truly evil and twisted the Bane really is.
The world unfolds as well, like a map that spreads to show you territories previously ignored. For instance, we learn more about different types of spells and magic and warfare—everything from precision memory spells and blood circles to hunting ropes and bewitched spears. We leave Europe and the European-flavored Domain for the first time as Iolanthe and Titus trek through the Sahara and get to meet Exiled rebels. And it isn't just the physical and intellectual world that expands for us, but also the mental world. With talk of destiny and prophecies comes a wibbly-wobbly effect on time, one that's only heightened by the alternating narrative. Iolanthe in particular must wrestle with the idea that there are areas hidden off the figurative map of her memories that she can't access. If the identity of Iolanthe Seabourne is a charade made to protect the greatest elemental age of our time, and if that nameless mage is missing more of her own memory than she can ever imagine, then she is left to wonder, who am I?
Despite all of the heavy topics floating around, the romance truly is excellent. I've never read Ms. Thomas's adult romance titles, but I can understand why she's so popular. Even while Titus and Iolanthe grapple with trouble in both timelines, their chemistry is unmistakable. THEY ARE SO CUTE TOGETHER. I also appreciate that while trials and tribulations rise up to separate them, the plot doesn't fall back on some of the tireder tropes. There is no love triangle. There is no simple misunderstanding blown out of proportion. There is no "pushing you away for your own good." But there is real hurt, real confusion, real doubt.
Best of all, the twists in this book are fantastic. Including Titus's shocking discovery, I blew up my notes with interrobangs four times. FOUR TIMES. IN ONE BOOK! The things we learn! I finally had to lean over to my (at this point, probably annoyed) coworker and hiss, "This book is like a freaking soap opera. I can't." I probably just about killed Gillian with my DMs. (Sorry, Gillian.) And then the end? What happens and the way we're left standing right on the edge of... Well, let's just say that when you read it, you'll understand why I socked my coworker in the shoulder.
So what are you waiting for? Magic, kisses, betrayal, philosophizing, travel, TWISTS, it's all here! Go forth and buy! Just keep the punching to a minimum.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quote:
"You might be the scariest girl I have ever met."
"Let's not be dramatic. I'm the only girl you can remember ever meeting."
"If there is a scary girl competition, I would put my last coin on you."
Points Added For: Titus and Iolanthe, TWISTS, kissing, avoiding cliches, world-building, magic, that witch destiny, characters with depth.
Points Subtracted For: Still not sure of the Domain/Earth geography. In this book it seems like they're physically connected (Iolanthe sails from one to the other.) There's also a bit of info-dumping
Good For Fans Of: Suzanne Collins' Gregor the Overlander series, romance and kissytimes, clever heroines, noble heroes, wyverns, magic, flying carpets, TWISTS.
Notes For Parents: Some language, making out, a named character dies. :(
Note: I received a review copy from the publisher for review consideration.
Sigh. Siggghhhhhhhhh. Sometimes after a book like this, sighing is the only thing I can do. It's the only thing I want to do, because heaven only knows that apathetic reviews are the hardest reviews to write.
"Apathetic?" you may ask. "But Shae! Doctor Who meets Sherlock! That's YOU!" I know. I KNOW. And, as far as comparisons go, those two really aren't so bad. There are elements of both shows in Jackaby; unfortunately, those elements failed to coalesce into something great for me.
Our protagonist, Abigail Rook, is just the kind of plucky, adventurous lass that would make an admirable companion to the Doctor. She's run away from home to participate in archaeological digs (while dressed as a boy, no less), but, having found the digs less romantic than she had envisioned, took a boat across the pond from Europe to New Fiddleham, New England. There we meet her on the docks, newsboy cap perched jauntily atop her head, completely broke, and alone. She steps into a pub to get warm and there meets the town's most eccentric citizen, paranormal investigator R.F. Jackaby. Jackaby can see things that no one else can, including the tiny sprites living (he says) in Abigail's hat and coat. He later leaves, but they meet again when Abigail responds to his advertisement seeking an assistant. Before she can bat her eyes, they're off to investigate the mysterious death of a local who was ripped apart by someone... or something.
The beginning was a promising bit of fun for me. Abigail charmed me right off. Anyone who sports a newsboy cap and has an affinity for archaeology and dinosaurs is a kindred spirit of mine. I was also cautiously interested in the eccentric Mr. Jackaby. I loved the little creatures he described to Abigail (since we're in her head, we don't actually get to see them), and I giggled like a madwoman when Abigail arrived at his office and upset his frog. Seriously, when an advertisement plainly states not to stare at the frog, DON'T STARE AT THE FROG.
Throughout the book, I also found tidbits to enjoy. Jackaby's house, for instance, is home to more than just him alone. It's filled with trappings and artifacts from cases and Jackaby's own collections, as well as Jenny the host and Douglas the duck-who-used-to-be-human. The two characters were fairly insubstantial, but I liked the idea of Jackaby's home being a haven to the more peaceable of the paranormal creatures of New Fiddleham. I also enjoyed the various connections he made around town, the most prominent of which is Hatun, the lovely (but slightly batty) little old lady who feeds fish to trolls and owns an invisibility cloak of sorts.
Unfortunately, that about sums up the extent of my enjoyment. It isn't that I disliked the book, but rather that I found little to cling to. Take Jackaby, for instance. I liked him, but only in an abstract kind of way. As a Sherlock character, he fails. He notices very little and pieces together even less. His insights come from his observation of paranormal remnants (auras and the like), which doesn't translate well to the audience. His main Sherlockian quality is his disdain for those who can't keep up with him intellectually, despite the fact that it's hardly their fault that they're not versed in the various classifications of supernatural creatures. Thankfully, he's less vitrolic about his disdain than Sherlock, erring on the side of absently baffled instead. In manner, he swings more closely to a version of the Doctor, though I can't decide which. I pictured him as Capaldi, though we're never given a good estimate of his age. He is absent-minded, esoteric, and often silly because of those qualities. He also has moments of deep outrage over injustice, as well as tenderer moments for the mistreated creatures that cross his path. But despite all that, I couldn't connect with him. He was too abstract, too unknowable, too much of a sketch rather than a person for me to feel anything for our titular character.
Abigail was much the same. Like I said, at first she came off as the perfect companion, but after a while, I realized how very... hollow she is. We're inside her head and yet I found little to amuse, entertain, or enchant me. She's cardboard, a smiling thing made to follow the smart man around and get herself into scrapes. I began to picture her as Clara Oswin Oswald, which, if you know me and my Doctor Who tastes at all, is not a good thing. Her voice didn't feel right, somehow, and I needed more of an interior for her, more life, more pizazz. This girl ran away from home to dig for dinosaurs, for heaven's sake! She's backpacked all around Europe on her own. She's in America with no money, no connections, and yet refuses to go to her parents for help. Surely she should have more thoughts flying around in her head, more emotions, more impulses and stored histories and memories and... well, life.
Instead, Clara Abigail spends most of her time wondering futilely about what is killing the citizens of New Fiddleham and mooning over police detective Charlie Cane. Good heavens, even if Charlie Cane was doing naked handstands in the street, he wouldn't merit the amount of thought given to him by our narrator. Sure, he's cute (says Abigail) and he's relatively nice, but there's nothing special about him. YOU ONLY MET HIM A FEW DAYS AGO, WOMAN.
The plot itself was... fine? Since I spent most of the booth apathetically nudging the cardboard characters to see if they would fall over, I couldn't get into the plot. One of the problems of being a character-centric reader, I guess. The villain is transparently obvious, so much of the mystery centers around why and how. Actually, the why is fairly obvious as well, and I thought the how was also, but that ended up being a bit of a fakeout. So, congratulations on that, I guess?
I wish Jackaby had been more of a success. I had such high hopes. But, in the end, it failed to elicit much of a response from me. I would have even taken negative emotions in order to care just a little. Oh well. Guess you can't win 'em all.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quote:
"I don't exactly believe in all this... this... this occult business. I don't believe in house spirits, or goblins, or Santa Claus!"
"Well, of course not, that's silliness. Not the spirits or goblins, of course, but the Santa nonsense."
It wasn't that I did not believe in ghosts; it was that I believed in them in the same noncommittal way that I believed in giant squids or lucky coins or Belgium. They were things that probably existed, but I had never given any occasion to really care one way or another.
"Hatun sees a different world than you or I, a far more frightening one, full of far more terrible dangers, and still she chooses to be the hero whom that world needs. She has saved this town and its people from countless monsters countless times. That the battles are usually in her head does not lessen the bravery of it. The hardest battles always are."
Points Added For: The frog, Douglas and Jenny, the core concept (if not the execution).
Points Subtracted For: The emphasis on Charlie Cane, cardboard characters, Abigail's lack of interior.
Good For Fans Of: Paranormal creatures (so maybe scaredy-cat Supernatural fans?), Clara Oswin Oswald.
Notes For Parents: Some light language, murder.
Note: I received a review copy from the publisher for review consideration.
I think Ms. McGowan is trying to kill me. As a woman who writes credibly about a crew of spies iOriginally reviewed at: http://www.shaelit.com/?p=2338
I think Ms. McGowan is trying to kill me. As a woman who writes credibly about a crew of spies in the service of the Crown, I'm certain she knows how to dispatch a blogger in many interesting ways, but I doubt any are so delicious effective as these books. I can't breathe when I read these books. PHYSICALLY. CANNOT. BREATHE. They're so good, so fantastically good, and I don't know that my heart can take another one. (It's a risk I'm willing to take, of course.) Well, strap yourselves in, ladies and gents, because I have things to say that will likely be turned into GIFs when words fail me.
My anxiety and expectations were at an all-time high as I sat down to being Maid of Deception. I purposely didn't look at the synopsis before starting, trusting my love of the first book and the strength of Ms. McGowan's writing to carry me through. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about leaving our previous narrator, Meg, to follow her fellow Maid, Beatrice. On the one hand, I was excited to get into the head of another girl, but on the other, I loved Meg so much! How could I find out what was going on with James, Meg, and Rafe if I was stick with snobby ol' Beatrice? Thankfully, Beatrice stole my heart with an ease that quick-fingered Meg would admire.
Ah, Beatrice. Known previously as the snooty, vain, beautiful Belle of the group, Beatrice... remains the snooty, vain, beautiful Belle of the group. She reminds me of Throne of Glass's Celaena Sardothien—particular about her clothes and appearance, one finger perpetually pressed to the pulse of the court, and more dangerous that anyone can imagine. For all the trouble she causes Meg in the first book, Beatrice is truly fantastic. She captured my sympathy from the beginning as we watch her prepare nervously for her wedding to Lord Cavanaugh, a respectable nobleman who is devoted to Beatrice and who will shelter her from her father's disgraceful philandering and the sharp tongues at court. She's so close... and then Queen Elizabeth bursts in and ruins everything. She wants Beatrice to be her spy among the Scots at court to determine whether they're friend or foe, and a married woman can't flirt like an unmarried woman can, so the wedding is off!
You guys, the tricks this book does with Beatrice's point of view are amazing. We get to see her fellow Maids through her eyes, from sweet and shy Sophia to bookish Anna to deadly Jane to our previous narrator Meg. It was lots of fun seeing Beatrice's take on familiar characters, especially Meg's Spanish beau, Rafe, as Beatrice views them all so differently than Meg does. Though the first book was filtered through Meg's point of view, I assumed that her point of view was the correct point of view. I (lazily) assumed that Meg spoke for the author and that Beatrice would agree pleasantly with perhaps a few minor changes.
When Meg said that Queen Elizabeth I practically walks on water, I accepted it. All hail the Virgin Queen, she of the iron fist and rapier wit! But with Beatrice, we're given a different side of Good Queen Bess. Through Beatrice's eyes, we see Elizabeth's cruel side, her pettiness, her vindictiveness, and her overwhelming vanity. Though she is the Queen of England, she is also the enemy. It's a radical shift for the audience but one that is done with startling realism. Beatrice has known Elizabeth her entire life and therefore would have a different view of her than a thieving street rat fresh at court. As someone skilled in manipulation and power plays, Beatrice is able to see through Elizabeth's affectations to pinpoint her true (less than savory) motives. In Beatrice's mouth, Gloriana devolves from flattering title to vile indictment, and I loved it. Queen Elizabeth and her counterparts remain consistently portrayed, but we get to plumb the depths with Beatrice as wouldn't be possible with Meg.
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="245"] Dang you, Ms. McGowan, and your Jedi mind tricks![/caption]
I spent much of the book inwardly walking around with my hands up, muttering, "I can't even." I wanted to shove Walsingham into a pit. I wanted to stab Queen Elizabeth. I wanted to smack Robert Dudley upside the back of the head until his nose bled. And I can't even tell you what I wanted to do with Alasdair MacLeod. The Scottish leader at first comes across as an overbearing boor, too assured of his own charms to back off when told to do so. "Overbearing is not attractive, Alasdair!" I scolded often. But then, magic. The bickering and tension between Alasdair and Beatrice is delicious, and a warm, fuzzy feeling grew in my stomach as they learned to trust each other. (Also, Elizabeth oh-so-helpfully muddies the water several times, so yay extra tension and angst!) Best of all, Alasdair sees Beatrice. The blustering Scotsman proves he is able to see through Beatrice's layers, her lies, and her affectations and grasp who she truly is. It's a trait the Maids of boys seem to have in common and one I hope continues in later books, because it's swoon-worthy to the max.
Also swoon-worthy (at least to me) is the continued expedition into the historical texture of Elizabethan England. John Knox joins the list of "Names That Make Me Squeal 'I Know Him!'" and the door is pushed open wider to include contemporary fixtures such as the local Traveling People and the black-hooded Inquisitors that grew in power under the Protestant queen. More than once, little asides and casually mentioned proper names sent me running to Wikipedia to get the scoop. Let me help you all out—if you haven't looked up "Elizabeth I and Thomas Seymour," DO IT NOW. I gasped out loud and then squirmed uncomfortably.
However, I think best of all for me was the overall plot tension. You like intrigue? THIS BOOK HAS INTRIGUE. You thought Meg's imprisonment was the be-all-to-end-all in suspense and tear-your-heart-out tension? YOU AIN'T SEEN NOTHIN' YET, BABY! Gah, my heart. As much as I trusted the course of the story, there was a part where I truly feared that all hope was lost. The roller coaster this book sent me on in the space of a few chapters is indescribable. It went something like this:
A VERY BAD THING happened.
I tried to have hope but there was no way out.
HOLY FREAKING GUACAMOLE NO WAY YOU MEAN [SPOILER] DID [SPOILER] AND ALL ALONG WAS PLANNING TO [SPOILER] AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!!!!
But sadly, not all the bad things were prevented.
And my heart broke.
But this is McGowan we're talking about here, and by then end...
So now here I sit, afloat in my own feels and legitimately angry that Ms. McGowan hasn't written any other novels for me to binge before the next book. Look, if you're going to be this good, you need to have 20+ years worth of backlist for eager fans to devour, okay? I just... I have no words. My words are broken, and if I try to use them, I'm going to devolve into another GIF spree, so just READ THE BOOKS, OKAY?!
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
I stepped into the long aisle and held my head high. It was total perfection, and all according to a plan I'd labored to bring to light for the past ten years. Finally I would be married. Finally I would be respected. Finally I would be...
"It's never an easy thing to be a woman, Beatrice. And a woman in power is more at risk than any other. She invites attention. She is strong when the whole world thinks she should be weak, and there are those who don't like that fact. Remember that."
"There is naught you do that doesn't have two or three reasons, a contingency purpose, and as many side benefits as you can extract."
Points Added For: Beatrice, the new take on the Queen, ALASDAIR, James and Jane (hubba hubba), THE FOUNTAIN SCENE, THE ROOFTOP SCENE, THE FESTIVAL SCENE, getting me interested in history, Lord Knowles.
Points Subtracted For: The side trip into more paranormal elements was worrying (but it was all explained/resolved nicely.)
Good For Fans Of: The His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, Palace of Spies by Sarah Zettel, Celaena Sardothien, crafty heroines, Scots, Elizabethan history, having your heart broken and reformed.
Notes For Parents: Some making out, drunkenness, infidelity.
Note: I received a review copy of this title from the publisher for review consideration.
I don't know if you all remember, but back in another review I talked about how sometimes my emotions are so intense that my brain can do nothing but repeat an appropriate movie line over and over again. I can't control it. Well, it happened again, and it's all Jennifer McGowan's fault. I started and finished Maid of Secrets in the same day, and the entire time, my head was filled with Rapunzel. Because you know why? THIS BOOK IS AMAAAAAZIIIIIIIIIIING!
I'm getting all excited and flustered again trying to write this review! Okay. Okay, I can do this. Let's break it down!
Why I Love Maid of Secrets By Jennifer McGowan
1. An Amazing Protagonist The protagonist has the power to make or break a story, and that's why I put Meg Fellowes first. She really is amazing. Meg is a member of a traveling theater group. Though she's a fantastic mimic and actress, her work is in the crowd. She blends in as a fishwife, an eager young girl, a laundress, or whatever part will get her closest to her marks so she can pick their pockets while they watch the stage. You see, Meg has an aural eidetic memory. She only has to hear something one time and she'll remember it forever, down to the inflection and the individual phonemes. She can perfectly recite anything in any language, regardless of whether she understands what she's saying. It's this ability that gets her forcibly drafted into Queen Elizabeth I's Maids of Honor. Meg (nicknamed The Rat) is charged with protecting the queen by spying on her enemies. Meg and her four fellow maids must integrate seamlessly with the royal court and sniff out any traitors or saboteurs, especially those of the Catholic persuasion.
I loved being in Meg's head. LOVED. She's so cool. I remember thinking during one particularly impressive demonstration of her talents that she would absolutely fascinate Megan Whalen Turner's Eugenides, and from me, there's no higher compliment. She's smart and bullheaded and unwaveringly loyal. I also loved that, though she's insanely clever, she can't read when she first joins the maids, which is appropriate for the time period. Ms. McGowan does a great job of building the layers within Meg's head and making her a realistic character. For instance, Meg has a habit of quoting couplets from her company's plays in her head, a detail I loved because I could relate. I always have movie or song lines floating around in my head, and how much more so must that be the case for Meg, considering her memory abilities. Also, SNARK SNARK SNARK. Gotta love the snark.
2. Fantastic Secondary Characters BUT Meg is not the only awesome character to grace these pages. Meg's four fellow maids are just as incredible. Jane the Blade, Beatrice the Belle, Anna the Scholar, and Sophia the Seer are all such well-rounded characters with amazing talents. They're like Ocean's Eleven, with each bringing a unique strength to make them an unbeatable team. I love these kinds of stories with teams like this one. The girls don't always get along (they're the ones who nicknamed Meg "The Rat," after all), but the way they work together for Queen and Country is so fun to watch. I can already tell this will probably be the shortest point, because I don't want to spoil the ride, but all I can say is GAH! THE GIRLS! SO COOL!
Of course, the girls aren't the only characters in this story, which brings me to...
3. Multiple Ships THE BOYS. Boys boys boys boys boys. First, let's talk about Meg's boys. The primary love interest in this tale is Rafe Medina, Le Conte de Martine, a member of the Spanish ambassador's entourage. Rafe is not exactly a good boy. He's an incorrigible ladies' man, completely hot and aware of the fact that he can make women swoon at his feet with a mere smile. Also, as a Spaniard, he's Catholic and therefore highly suspect as intrigue swirls through the Protestant court of the young English queen. And guess who's assigned the task of getting into his confidence? Yep! Meg! Just make sure you have a fan ready while reading their scenes, because, whoosh, it's gettin' hot up in here!
Meg's other boy is Master James, her old troupe master. James is a nonentity through most of the book with Meg hidden away at court. I actually grew annoyed at all the times Meg thought about him and tried to keep herself from pining for him. (As far as she knows, he has no interest whatsoever, but the same can't be said in reverse.) However, James does eventually get some page time, and the results were most upsetting. Unlike those in other books, this sort-of love triangle has me rooting wholeheartedly for both boys! Do I champion Rafe—he of the tingly kisses, witty retorts, and dubious motives—or do I champion James—the more trustworthy one with a valiant heart and a boatload of secrets? AUGH, THE CHOICES! MY HEART!
But wait, there are MORE BOYS we need to talk about. Never fear, they're not Meg's. The Elizabethean court is awash with romances and trysts. Each of the other maids have their own admirers and suitors, and I found myself straining to pull away from Meg to follow them into their own stories. I can sense all kinds of future swoons waiting for me, and I'm excited! Not that the girls keep all the canoodling to themselves. Queen Elizabeth herself is up to something with a certain historical gent. Canoodles for all!
4. Tudor History Speaking of Queen Elizabeth—wow. What a woman. She's young, beautiful, steely, and wholly in possession of the throne. She reminded me so much of the Queen of Attolia (a character created by Megan Whalen Turner), except she's real. And that's what Ms. McGowan does. She takes real people, real places, real events, and makes them come alive. From the dusty annals of Tudor history, she raises up Queen Elizabeth I, her wily advisors Cecil and Walsingham, her ladies-in-waiting, and the members of the visiting Hispanic court like Count de Feria, Nicolas Ortiz, and the others, turning them into giants that tower over the court and transforming all its players into a life-sized chessboard. It's absolutely fantastic.
I wish I knew far more about that period in history than I do, but even without background knowledge, I found myself growing excited every time a new person was introduced. Some names (like John Dee, Robert Dudley, Count de Feria, etc.) I recognized, while others strode onto the page so fully realized that I knew they had to be people history buffs would squeal over, even if I couldn't. I was so engaged and immersed in Meg's world that I was itching to do research on my own, to discover the nonfiction truths behind this fictional story I so enjoyed. And that's exactly what I hope for in my historical lit.
5. Political Intrigue Of course, another huge part of my urge to research is the political intrigue Meg wades through. Holy guacamole. Can you say intense?? Everyone has an agenda in Queen Elizabeth's court. Everyone wants something—or multiple somethings—and are willing to lie, deceive, manipulate, and even betray to get what they want. Meg has her own objectives which are complicated by conflicting directions from her handler (the creepy Cecil) and the queen herself. It's terrifying, and despite knowing that this is only the first in a series, I was genuinely concerned that Meg wouldn't be able to wiggle her way out of the traps set for her. What a ride, man. What. A. Ride.
Bottom line? READ THIS BOOK. I'm so grateful that I already own a copy, because you better believe that it went straight onto my (very exclusive) Most Precious Favorites shelf, and there it shall stay. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go binge on the sequel.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
"Remind me never to trust a Spaniard, will you?"
She squeezed my arm. "You have my word. The moment I sense you going weak in the knees, I'll break his."
"It was my pleasure, Rafe," I said with a gentle incline of my head, using his first name quite deliberately. No "my lord" or simpering curtsy this time! "But I suspect will be far better matched with Beatrice. Her skills at all manner of dance have captured many a gentleman's fancy at court. Her experience is much remarked upon."
Rafe's brows lifted ever so slightly, but Beatrice narrowed her eyes, clearly unsure about whether or not I'd just insulted her. I hadn't really just intimated that she'd bedded half the male population at Windsor Castle, not exactly.
But it was close enough.
If God won't save the Queen... we will.
Points Added For: Meg, the Maids, QEI, the scary intrigue, the HISTORY, snark!, the boys and the romance and the swoons, historical accuracy, completely making me lose track of time and place.
Points Subtracted For: Still not 100% sure why Rafe is immediately so into Meg.
Good For Fans Of: The His Fair Assassin series by Robin LaFevers, Palace of Spies by Sara Zettel, sneakytimes, Ocean's Eleven, historical political intrigue, swoons.
Notes For Parents: Some language, making out, murrrrrderrrrrr.
ORIGINALLY REVIEWS AT WWW.SHAELIT.COM I've been eyeing Ms. Haskell's books for a while now, since most in my circle seem to genuinely enjoy her work. FORIGINALLY REVIEWS AT WWW.SHAELIT.COM I've been eyeing Ms. Haskell's books for a while now, since most in my circle seem to genuinely enjoy her work. For The Castle Behind Thorns, I was expecting a fairytale adventure with some sneakytimes and maybe an itsy bit of romance. I didn't quite get what I was expecting, but neither did this book disappoint.
As the synopsis promises, the book starts when Sand wakes up inside an abandoned castle that is split in half. Literally everything from the cabbage in the kitchen to the stuffed hawk in the hall to the walls of the castle itself have been ripped in two. According to local legend, the castle was ruined in an earthquake a quarter-century before and has remained guarded by vicious thorns and neglected by the townsfolk ever since. But as Sand starts to wander through the empty, echoing halls, he also begins to question the stories he's been told. What earthquake could rend literally everything, including the solid iron anvils in the castle forges? How is it that none of the food has rotted and yet nothing else lives within the walls after twenty-five years of neglect? Who is the dead girl in the castle crypt? And why do the monstrous thorns guarding the gates seem to attack him when he tries to leave?
I'll admit, not a lot happens in the first part of the book. Most of the beginning is Sand puttering around and fixing things. We see him learn how to draw water from the well without a bucket (rope and cloth balls), how to mend various metal things, how to patch up a broken taxidermy falcon, etc. It may not sound terribly interesting (and may not be for some people), but I enjoyed myself. I felt like I was learning useful things, the same way I felt while watching Lynn survive in Not a Drop To Drink.
I was also fascinated to realize that while the events concerning the castle were fantasy, Sand and his adventure was set in a real place and time. Ms. Haskell references real things like crucifixes, saints, Paris, and the legend of Arthur and Merlin. Then later when Sand talks to Perrotte, the dead girl in the crypt who mysteriously comes back to life, they reference real historical figures like Charles the Affable and Anna Vreizh. Based on their talks, The Castle of Thorns starts in 1518, 20 years after the death of Charles the Affable and 26 years after Perrotte's friend and duchess Anna Vreizh became Queen of France. (FYI, Anna Vreizh = Duchess Anne of Grave Mercy fame, which you can bet made me squeal when I put the pieces together.)
On the whole, I found the story interesting. Though technically a middle-grade novel, Ms. Haskell treats her readers like adults. She tosses out asides like Perrotte is "like the rock she's named after" without any hand-holding or further explanation. She expects readers to guess that "perrotte" is a derivation on a type of rock and to do research on their own time if they have any further questions. It reminded me of Seraphina and its love of houppelandes and other undefined objects. Ms. Haskell also does a great job of keeping the story and characters at a very astereotypical half-step off from my expectations. It felt a bit like listening to the National Anthem in minor chords (which you should totally listen to if you haven't already). I could follow along. I felt like I knew what was going to happen next, and for the most part I did except for when the tail end of one scene or another would take a quick twist away from my expectations.
Like I said, I enjoyed my time with Sand and Perrotte. I was content to watch them as they tackled questions about forgiveness, mending, and imagination. I liked learning about the stars and appreciated the balance between the two very different stepmother characters who affect the story. That being said, it's not a story I missed when I was finished, nor do I have any desire to return to the castle. The characters played their part well and I rooted for their success, but I had no real attachment to any of them. The Castle Behind Thorns ended up being a forgettable, middle-of-the-road book for me, but there were enough things I truly enjoyed about Ms. Haskell's writing that make me eager to try her again, so I count this adventure as a moderate success.
Points Added For: Sand not being a fluent reader, Sand preferring manual labor and craftsmanship over schooling, the historical context, Sand's stepmother, the practical mending advice.
Points Subtracted For: Not fully connecting me with the characters, being a little slow, the ending being a little too soft.
Good For Fans Of: Shannon Hale, The Secret Garden, historical fairytales.
Notes For Parents: Murder (not graphic).
Note: I received a digital review copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review....more
Dudes. DUUUUUUDES. Stop what you are doing. Put down what you are reading (except for this review). Put everything on hold and read The Falconer. I don’t care what you’ve heard, and I don’t care what hangups you think you might have. In fact, I think I can answer every concern you might have. Look!
1. Ugh, but it’s steampunk. I don’t like steampunk.
Okay, you’re a crazy person, and crazy isn’t something I can fix. Steampunk is awesome. But I guess you’re allowed your tastes, so whatever. Even still, I think The Falconer‘s version of steampunk is palatable for just about everyone. First of all, it’s a steampunk set in Scotland. SCOTLAND! Not once do we step foot in London or even England proper. They don’t even like the British up there. Even better, the steampunk Elizabeth May employs is so delightfully restrained. To quote my pal Gillian Berry, it’s a “subtle steampunk that just serves to boost the world, not define it.”
Aileana’s world has delightful contraptions like stitcher spiders and ornithopters and flying carriages, all of which set my heart a-fluttering, but Ms. May does a great job of keeping the steampunk elements from overwhelming the story. The inventions are used to bolster the plot and make the world-building shine, but the story would remain both feasible and intelligible without them. The reader gets all of the balls and pretty gowns and social constraints that we’ve come to expect from books of this time period, just with some fantastic mechanical baubles thrown in.
2. There are fairies. I don’t do fairies.
Faeries. They’re faeries, not fairies. My gosh. But you know what? I can’t STAND faeries/fairies/fae/whatever. Every book I’ve ever tried with those odd beasties were complete duds for me. Really, the faeries were my biggest hangup prior to starting The Falconer. But then I read this book, and now I’m a believer. Ms. May manages to squeeze in each type of faerie typically found in YA lit (scary, sexy, funny) and make it work. We get everything from the generally harmless pixies to the seductive and dangerous daoine sith and everything in between—fae that fly, howl, bark, and charm their way through piles of dead Scots.
Interestingly, though each type of faerie also has a nearly incomprehensible Scottish name for itself, I didn’t have trouble keeping the types separated. Each kind was on the page long enough and the titles used consistently enough that I was able to tell a sluag apart from a baobhan sith, for example. Which is great, because then I didn’t miss out on the rest of faerie lore. There’s more to enjoy concerning men with the Sight and women Falconers and bloodlines and herbs and fighting techniques. As with the faerie types, I was able to follow along easily, which I appreciated.
3 . There’s a fighter girl. I’m so over fighter girls.
I get that. Fighter girls can be fun, but there are so many of them that the standard, kick-butt version does less and less for me each time. That being said, Aileana is a variation that I completely enjoyed. First of all, she’s wicked smart. Even before her mother’s death, Aileana was an avid tinkerer. She built her family’s ornithopter and was always inventing some new gadget. After her mother’s death, however, she dismantled all her fobs and fripperies and started converting them into weapons to hunt the faeries.
She’s also remarkably unapologetic about her thirst for vengeance. Since her mother’s death a year prior, this young noblewoman has murdered 158 faeries. She has gone from a wide-eyed, innocent young thing with a head full of love and marriage to a seasoned liar and hunter with a thirst for blood. Indeed, she’s become addicted to the rush of power and untainted joy she gets with each kill. Watching her struggle in an attempt to reconcile the girl that she was with what she has become is both an interesting read and a heartbreaking one. In the end, these two traits—Aileana’s brains and her drive—are what make her strong, not her ability to kill.
4. There’s a love triangle. I HAAAAAATE love triangles.
No! No love triangle! Not really. What Ms. May does here is tricky, because it sort of looks like Aileana is being prepped for a whopper of a love triangle (or even a love trident), but it never comes to pass. There are actually three wonderful boys in The Falconer, and each deserves a mention, because they’re just that wonderful.
First, there’s Derrick. Derrick is a pixie, a tiny Tinker Bell-sized faerie that lives in Aileana’s dressing room and mends her clothes in exchange for honey (too much of which makes him hilariously drunk). Of the three boys, he’s mostly played for comic relief, but he’s also a true and loyal friend to Aileana, which is pretty incredible considering her vow to kill as many faeries as she can find. All of the best quotes come from Derrick, and I would dearly like to have one of my own. (Except for one comment about an old love of his, Derrick fits the standard trope of Loyal Gay Friend pretty well.)
Next, there’s Gavin. Gavin is a human and the elder brother of Aileana’s best friend. He represents Aileana’s past and the hopes and dreams she’s set aside in exchange for revenge. If this were Shadow and Bone, he’d be Mal; if Unhinged, he’d be Jeb. I can’t say too much more about Gavin, but I truly enjoyed him and the role he filled.
Lastly, there’s Kiaran, or as Gillian and I like to call him, “KIAAAAARAAAAAAAAAN.” What a dreamboat. He’s the bad-boy side of this supposed love triangle. If Gavin is Aileana’s pure and innocent past, Kiaran is her dark and dangerous future. Kiaran is one of the most powerful types of faerie, a daoine sith, and hunts down his own kind for reasons of his own. Nowhere is Kiaran framed as the safe choice or even necessarily the best choice. However, he offers what Gavin cannot. He sees Aileana’s rage and thirst for revenge and accepts them in a way that Gavin simply can’t. In this equation, Kiaran is the best parts of the Darkling, Warner, Jack Dandy, and Morpheus, Aileana’s guide as she does what must be done.
Despite how it appears, I must stress again that this book does not contain an actual love triangle. The storyline may trend that way in later books, but it does not do so now. Even if it did, I still think readers will enjoy this book. Each boy plays his part (Loyal Friend, Good Boy, Bad Boy), but each part contains pleasant deviations from the standard form. You might think you know how each boy will react—who will be jealous of whom and how, who will attempt to control Aileana, etc.—but you can’t. Aileana is not the one to change Kiaran’s black heart. Gavin isn’t constantly playing the white knight and saving her from danger. Aileana doesn’t whine, wheedle, or manipulate the boys to do what she wants. It’s wonderful!
5. The ending. I’ve heard other people didn’t like how abrupt it was.
I’ll give you this one. The ending was rather abrupt. I liked it, because it left me with a jolt of character development that I wasn’t expecting, but it definitely killed me in the “Oh my gosh, give me the next book NOW” sort of way. What can ya do?
I strongly encourage you all to read this book. If I may quote my own Goodreads status, this book is like popcorn. Delicious, adrenaline-laced, pixie dust-flavored popcorn. It’s ridiculously addictive in the best way. The moment I have money to spend, it will go toward obtaining this book, and from me, there’s no higher praise.
Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:
“You know my mother thinks the waltz is indecent.”
“Your mother would find the sight of a chair leg indecent.”
When Dante described the circles of Hell, he clearly forgot the one where a hungry pixie sits on one’s shoulder for eternity.
“My ears are bleeding. I have a nasty headache. I’m trapped in a room with a murderous faery and I blame you.”
“Perhaps it’s a honey-ache. That’s the result of eating too much of what isn’t yours.”
“But your friend offered it. So she might not have explicitly said, ‘Derrick, please eat all of the honey in my kitchen,’ but it was implied by the mere fact that she has a kitchen.”
“Well, I can safely say that I’ve never experienced a more exciting two days. I suppose I should send a note before seeing you again. ‘Are you in the company of any creature liable to attack me unprovoked? I can visit later.’”
Points Added For: Aileana, Derrick, Kiaran, Gavin; a fresh, less stereotypical twist on character tropes; Aileana’s inventive streak; subtle steampunkery; a great mix of humor, tension, and sexiness.
Points Subtracted For: A really abrupt ending, I guess.
Good For Fans Of: Faeries, bad boys, good boys, funny and supportive boys, girls who kick butt, smart girls, historical Scotland, light steampunk.
Notes For Parents: Language (I think), making out, death....more