Thea: I’ve read two books by Rachel Neumeier prior to picking up The City and the Lake, and I can attest to her skill as a storyteller, especially in the fantasy arena. But Ms. Neumeier’s excellent The Floating Islands and Lord of the Changing Winds have got NOTHING on The City in the Lake. I have to admit, I’m not crazy about either cover for the book, but my goodness is the story within jaw-droppingly awesome. Not only is The City in the Lake the best book I’ve read from Rachel Neumeier to date, it’s also one of the best fantasy novels (YA or otherwise) that I’ve read in a long time. I loved this book.
Ana: Thea has been raving about Rachel Neumeier’s books for a while now and I was in tenterhooks to finally try one and decided that City in the Lake was a good place to start and OH MY GOD, I was so not prepared for how awesome this book is. Prose, setting, story, characters, everything is top notch and I too loved this book.
On the Plot:
Thea: The Kingdom’s heart is the City. The City’s heart is the King. In the strange city on the lake, old and powerful magic unites the kingdom and keeps it hale and strong. The Bastard, named Neill and the eldest son of the ruling King, has always known that his role in the kingdom is one relegated to the sidelines. In a younger time, the King was seduced by a beautiful and mysterious woman who gave birth to Neill and disappeared from the kingdom. When the King eventually married and his wife, the Queen, bore a healthy, strong son, Neill quickly become known as simply The Bastard. Despite his title, Neill has never been resentful of his younger half-brother Cassiel – like everyone else in the kingdom, The Bastard loves Cassiel. When the prince goes missing one day after a hunt with his friends, Neill is called upon by his angry father and distraught stepmother to find the errant crown heir, but to no avail. Without the heir present, the kingdom is without its heart and begins to suffer – life grinds to a slow halt, animals and even humans are born dead. The curse spreads to the furthest reaches of the kingdom, where a young girl named Timou lives in a small village with her powerful mage father, Kapoen. When Kapoen leaves the village to seek the cause of the stillbirths and does not return, Timou fears the worst, and sets out on the path to the City at the heart of the kingdom to find him. Here, at the City above the Lake, Timou and The Bastard’s destinies collide. A great evil lurks in the City, and Timou and Neill hold the key to the Kingdom’s salvation, but also its undoing…
I absolutely adored The City in the Lake for so many reasons, from its wonderful worldbuilding to its sweeping prose. From a storytelling perspective, The City in the Lake is a dark and lushly evocative fairy tale of a novel, with a greedy sorceress, ancient magic, and powerful creatures that are neither good nor evil but rather part of the overall balance of forces that comprise this strange and wondrous kingdom. There are many different levels to the plot, as the story alternates between three characters – Lord Bastard, Timou, and Jonas – and each of these characters plays a pivotal role in the ultimate conclusion of the novel. In the City, Neill struggles with the distrust that springs up around him (as many accuse him of attempting to steal the throne for himself and suspect him of orchestrating his brother’s disappearance). On her father’s trail, Timou must find her own strength and travel through an oppressive, haunted wood to find her heart’s true desire. And following Timou, a haunted young man named Jonas struggles with the nightmares that plague him, and must decide whether or not to go after his unrequited love. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but on every level of the narrative, The City in the Lake works beautifully.
On the negative side, the kingdom and its many different dimensions may be a little confusing for newer readers of fantasy, and perhaps some readers will be turned off by the metaphysical aspects of this book (particularly by the book’s climactic scenes). But not me. I loved The City in the Lake in all its luminous abstractness. Plus, with writing this poetic, lush and evocative, I can hardly complain. Rachel Neumeier’s writing in this book is reminiscent of Juliet Marillier and Patricia McKillip – two fantasy authors whom I love and hold in the highest regard.
Ana: I have to agree with everything that Thea says. The City in the Lake is a wonderful, original fairytale in terms of story whilst having a distinct traditional feel with regards to its prose. Plot-wise, it follows three distinct characters, each on their own journeys and all of them are beautifully executed to the point where I can’t tell which was my favourite but perhaps that point is moot since the three storylines converge in the end. What is the most striking aspect of the novel is how it effectively combines those parallel, personal narratives with the overarching story of a Kingdom that has existed for a long, long time and in different dimensions as well (sort of). Not only that, but the story has elements of Quest, of Vengeance, of Romance, of Adventure and with different aspects of Magic and History and it never, ever feels like it is too much because it is all so beautiful and truly magical. It might sound as though I am committing the unforgivable sin of being too cheesy but really, the story is beautiful even when it is sad and dark.
On the Characters:
Thea: As with the storytelling and plot, the characters in The City in the Lake also shine, from the three protagonists, to the solid cast of secondary characters. When Ana and I started reading this book, there were flurries of emails back and forth about how much we loved The Bastard, Timou and Jonas, and this unabashed love for the characters sustained until the end of the book. Each of these protagonists have their own depths, backstories and formative experiences, although some of them overlap. I loved the absentee mother theme that connects both Neill and Timou, as well as the strength of familial bonds and responsibilities that unite them. As for Jonas, his own dark past (and darker future) are the stuff of excellent fantasy. Even the secondary characters, of the King, Prince, and Queen, and other members of the court, are beautifully textured and have believable motivations (especially the Queen in her feelings towards Neill).
As for The Villain – well, this character is pretty nasty, but not simply evil for evil’s sake (which would be rather disappointing). Rather, this villain is greedy for power, spoiled with it, and never understanding nor caring for the consequences of their actions. And the villain’s unflinchingness? I thought it was awesome (I mean, scary but also awesome).1 Not to mention, there’s room for more in this same universe. The villain comes to an end off-screen, which leaves me wondering as to how safe the kingdom really is. What of the much-alluded to but never present Deserisien? Could he make a possible appearance at some point in the future? For a villain as far-thinking as the one in The City in the Lake, I’m certain there might be a contingency plan for failure in the works. I am greedy and I want MORE.
Ana: I can’t begin to express how much I loved the characters – protagonists and secondary – of this book and how much their story arcs were amazing. I mean, it plays with every single one of my favourite tropes. There we have the determined heroine who wants to find her father, the wronged yet goodhearted young man, the hero who sets out after his love and meets with the Unexpected. And then each of them has to overcome obstacles both internal and external. I loved how Timou spend her whole life living by her father’s lessons and then when push comes to shove she had to make her own decisions as to whether those lessons would work for her or not; similarly with The Bastard who lived under a whole plethora of expectations and had to decide whether to meet them or surpass them. Whereas both Timou and the Bastard had to deal very real, concrete problems (even as they were surrounded by magic) , Jonas’ quest takes him on a much more supernatural path (which had real and concrete repercussions) which as Thea says, is stuff of excellent fantasy. I was reminded at every turn of Juliet Marillier’s fantasy novels which is the highest form of compliment I can think of and I demand MOARS as well.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Thea: I cannot believe I had not heard of this book earlier, and it’s a damn shame how unacknowledged it is. From opening sentence to bittersweet farewell, I loved The City in the Lake and recommend it to readers young and old alike. For fans of Juliet Marillier, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, and Sharon Shinn, looking for that next fix of luscious, romantic, flawless fantasy? Look no further – Rachel Neumeier’s The City in the Lake is for you. Easily, one of the best books I have read in 2011 and in the running for my year end top 10.
Ana: Word, Thea. I can’t believe I never heard about this book before and I wish more people would read it. I don’t think I have read a YA Fantasy as good as this in ages and wouldn’t be surprised if it made my top 10 as well.
Dear readers. Let me formally start off this review by confessing that I am currently in panic mode, trying tOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Dear readers. Let me formally start off this review by confessing that I am currently in panic mode, trying to finish all of the potentially fabulous 2011 releases in time to formulate the most fair and informed Best of 2011 list as possible. There are a number of books I have let slip through the cracks and, unfortunately, Cleopatra's Moon was one of them.
Thanks be to The Great Goddess Isis, I did read this book before the end of the year because oh my freaking GOODNESS IT IS FANTASTIC. This is the type of historical YA I yearn for, I burn for, I want to squeeze close to my heart and buy copies of for everyone because it is that damn good.
Ahem. With that off my chest, allow me to begin the review proper:
Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of Cleopatra VII and Marcus Antonius, the aspiring lovers whose might would be toppled by the rise of Octavianus (Caesar Augustus), the emperor of Rome. Though her childhood is one of happiness and she cherishes every moment with her regal mother, beloved Tata, and three brothers, Cleopatra Selene's family is torn apart when Octavianus impossibly fells Egypt. After Marcus Antonius takes his own life, and after the murder of her son Caesarion at Octavianus's bidding, the great Pharaoh Cleopatra VII takes her own life - but not before bargaining for the lives of her three remaining children. Heartbroken, Cleopatra Selene, her twin Alexandros, and young brother Ptolly are ripped from their home in Alexandria and sent to live under Octavianus's roof on the stinking Palatine Hill. With powerful enemies in their midst - from the cruel temper of Octavianus to the calculating machinations of his wife Livia Drusilla - Cleopatra Selene clings to the hope that one day she will return to her beloved Egypt and bring her country back to power. The only question remains - what will she sacrifice to return to glory?
From the devastating prologue to this book (foreshadowing to an older Cleopatra Selene in her sixteenth year), I was completely hooked. Though the punchline is already known when readers start the book (knowing the outcome of the tragic romance of Cleopatra and Marc Antony, the rise of Caesar Augustus, and the ultimate fate of Cleopatra's children), Vicky Alvear Shecter brings a fresh new perspective to Egypt's last glory days, creating a loving vision of Alexandria by the sea contrasted against a sweltering, fish-guts stinking vision of the Roman empire. Ms. Shecter, a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta, clearly has a love for the antiquities and a passion for history, and her effortless writing style evokes the tactile sensations and setting of these ancient empires beautifully. I loved the focus on both the political maneuverings (as seen and interpreted through the eyes of young Cleopatra Selene), just as I loved the harsh depictions of every day life in Rome, even for the patrician citizen; the realities of slavery, abuse, and rape are not hidden behind some romanticized vision of the past. The attention paid to the many different belief systems of the time are similarly well detailed and fascinating, from the Romans and the return to 'piety', to the Egyptian gods of old, to Judaism. On many occasions, Cleopatra Selene grapples with these different ideologies, raising some very interesting questions about free will and fate.
Beyond the writing and themes, the phenomenal cast of strong female characters is what makes this book for me. Ms. Shecter's approach to these different women is nuanced and complex - Cleopatra is portrayed as a hero in her daughter's eyes, but that perception shifts, taking form into something new as Cleopatra Selene grows older. I similarly loved the characterizations of Livia Drusilla, Caesar's consort who is often painted in a conniving light, as well as Octavianus's sister Octavia. Of course, the heroine of this piece is none other than Cleopatra Selene herself, as she grapples with the legacy of her parents, the loss of everyone she loves, and the hunger for power. Her voice throughout the book - from her childhood to her young teen years - is authentic and wholly sympathetic. Perhaps at times Cleopatra Selene asks too contemporary questions, particularly about the role of women in society and the injustice of laws written to favor men, but if anyone would ask those questions, certainly it would be this young woman (daughter of the Queen of Kings, and living in the household of the formidable Livia Drusilla, to boot).
Finally, because I cannot write this review without addressing it (and because the blurb of the book exaggerates a love triangle), there is also the romantic element to the novel. I cannot stress enough that Cleopatra's Moon is NOT just some sappy love triangle - Cleopatra Selene, like her mother before her, finds ways to form allegiances for the strength of Egypt and for her family, both of which are always first in her heart. The best example of how much this book is not a sappy love triangle is in one of my favorite parts of the novel. In her initiation ritual to the following of Isis, Cleopatra Selene has a vision in which she is (supposedly) given the choice between two men...to which she reacts with exasperation - why should her fate be only tied up in choosing between two boys?
"You must make a choice," the Goddess said.
"Is that my only choice - to choose between men?" I asked. "I want what Mother had!"
"Your mother chose two men," she said with light laughter.
"No! She chose independence for her country. She chose power and freedom," I yelled.
Almost as if in response, a pulsating energy moved up from the ground into my bare feet. It thrummed up my body and radiated out in a bright light, first from my toes, then from my fingertips, then the top of my head.
"I choose power," I said. "I choose freedom."
Ultimately, I loved Cleopatra Selene and her desire to follow in her mother's footsteps, but then her gradual realization that her mother was not the flawless, godlike creature Cleopatra Selene held her to be. The Queen of Kings' shadow is a long one, and watching young Cleopatra Selene make her own choices is an incredibly empowering and beautifully written journey.
I loved Cleopatra's Moon wholeheartedly.
Easily one of my favorite books of 2011, and in the running for a spot on my Top 10 list for the year. ...more
Why did we read this book: Chime has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal, and with every new review our interest only grew. Plus, isn’t that cover GORGEOUS?*
Ana: Listen. Come close and I will tell you a love story: my love story with this book. It wasn’t love at first sight because it wasn’t what I was expecting at first and the writing is different so it took me a while to adjust. But by page 50, I was a goner. Chime is a true gem: it has wonderful, beautiful, unique prose; an unreliable narrator; a wholly original mythology; an amazing, fascinating heroine; and a swoon-worthy romance. As you can see it has “Ana” written all over it and I loved it, I loved it so much I want the entire world to know about it.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree with Ana that the writing style for Chime is a bit offputting at first, but once you become accustomed to Briony’s strange, almost poetic voice, it is what makes this book. I truly enjoyed Chime – even if the plot was a little bit lacking, the characters (particularly the narrative voice) are absolutely fantastic. It’s not really a “Thea” book, so I’m not swooning and head over heels in love (unlike, say Rachel Neumeier’s The City in the Lake), but it’s a solid Good Book and one that certainly deserves attention.
On the Plot:
Ana: Briony is a witch – and a truly wicked one. Her crimes are numerous, amongst them her twin sister Rose’s condition which requires 24/7 care and attention. Her penance is to hate herself, to carry the guilt and fear at all times and to deny herself the pleasures that a young woman might enjoy. She no longer runs wild in the swamp, nor does she talk with the Brownie who used to be her friend. She also knows that is truly incapable of love, tears and joy. In any case, what matters is to take care of Rose like she promised her late Stepmother. But then Rose gets the dreaded Swamp Cough, an infectious, incurable disease and perhaps Briony can help – but that would mean breaking that promise to Stepmother, wouldn’t it? To complicate matters even further, there comes along a boy-man, Eldric, with his mane lion-hair, and his wonderful boy-man allure. What is a wicked girl to do?
It is going to be hard to talk about Chime’s plot without spoiling too much so you will have to excuse us for the cryptic attempt to review the plot that will surely follow.
Chime begins thusly:
I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged. Now, if you please.
How can anyone resist an opening line like that? It had that something that makes you want to keep on reading right? The story progresses as Briony recounts the events that lead to that moment. As aforementioned, it took a while to get accustomed to the writing style and to Briony’s voice but I did eventually, to the point where the prose is one of the aspects I love the most about the book. My copy is completely earmarked. Wait a minute, let me show you what I am talking about:
“I’m awfully tired,” I said. “Can you be quick about it?”
Poor Cecil, consumed by a grand passion, only to be told to compress his love manifesto into a haiku.
“I won’t try to excuse my behaviour,” he said. “It was despicable.”
Or a limerick.
There was once a rotter named Cecil, Whose Love Interest wished he could be still.
Oh well. Unlike some, at least I’ve never pretended to be a poet.
We were to have new clothes.
We were to have new clothes because I tried to bargain with the Boggy Mun and he outwitted me. I should feel guilty, but I don’t. Father shouldn’t feel guilty, but he does. We were to have new clothes because I made Rose sick.
This, to me, is Hell.
On and on ring the lunatic bells.
This is the sort of writing that I LOVE. But that is not all that I loved about the book, oh no. The story itself is riveting because it has wholly unique original mythology with nary a vampire, werewolf, fairy in sight. Instead, you have stuff like the Old Ones, and Swamp things and a Chime Child who is half way between human and the Old Ones. You also have witches like Briony who are to be hanged in public and Dark Muses who suck the life of men. Horrible things happen in this book and there are real repercussions from dealing with the paranormal world within the story.
And the world and the stories are disclosed to the reader little by little, because Briony’s narrative is full of SECRETS and what is she not telling us and WHY, which brings me to another aspect that I loved about the book which is one of my favourite narrative formats, that of an unreliable narrator; which then brings me to a halt here because I can’t say anything more for fear of spoiling the surprises and the twists but OMG, when the time comes and you realise what is happening and what has happened, it is brilliant and the clues ARE there and have been there since the start and yeah. It is seriously good stuff right there, my friends. I was up to 2 am to finish this book and it has been a long, long time since I did that because my beauty sleep is precious and I do not renounce it to just any book, it has to be for something really special and special this one is.
If I had to pick anything remotely negative about Chime, I would say that there are some awkward transitions between scenes. Plus, the story is supposed to be set in England but I never got the feeling of location. To be honest, it felt like I was reading a story set in America. But those things? Did not really matter to me at all.
Thea: From a pure writing perspective, Chime is fantastic. Written entirely in Briony’s unreliable first-person narrative, we are given a strange, filtered view of Briony’s swampy world, rife with Old Ones and spirits. Although I disagree with Ana – this is a traditional witch/spirit/fairy tale (Brownies are fairies!), albeit of a darker and more earthy/marshy variety – I think the way in which this universe with its spirits are presented is fascinating. Briony’s turns of phrases, from astute observations such as:
This is what I want. I want people to take care of me. I want them to force comfort upon me. I want the soft-pillow feeling that I associate with memories of being ill when I was younger, soft pillows and fresh linens and satin-edged blankets and hot chocolate. It’s not so much the comfort itself as knowing there’s someone who wants to take care of you.
to her graduated sentences:
This is the girl called Briony. This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained. This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun. This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun; who sent the swamp cough. This is the girl called Briony; who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the Boggy Mun; who sent the swamp cough; which Briony found out about through the ghost-children.
And so on and so forth. Awesome. Simply awesome.
This said, the book stands at a significant 350+ pages, which is lot of pages for a book in which nothing really happens. In this Smuggler’s opinion, the plot was wonderfully executed, but the “twist” was kind of predictable. I mean…it’s pretty obvious. That said, being cognizant of the twist does not detract from the pleasure of reading the book, and the manner in which Briony discovers the truth is what makes Chime work in spite of its simplicity and lack of true plot.
The only negatives I had with regards to the book lay with the setting (as Ana mentioned above) – I wasn’t exactly sure where this was supposed to be, although from Briony’s many London references, it must be in England (although the witch hangings, swamps, spirit magic, and Briony’s manner of speaking/thinking DO scream American New England to me). Also, while I think the romance develops between Briony and Eldric in a wonderful way, I thought the ultimate tearful declaration of love to be a little bit…cheesy. Then again, that’s just me (and probably a minority opinion!).
On the Characters:
Ana: I think we can agree by now that we can forget about any semblance to a collected, coolheaded review, right? Excellent, let me tell you then my favouritest thing about the book. Briony.
She is the best female protagonist I have seen in a long long time in YA. She is AWESOME. She is a flawed, complex character. She truly believes she is wicked and admits to many things like petty jealousy or hating her father and how she loves the fact that is smart and has no problems with that. She also knows the difference between lust and love and admits to the first with a flair and easiness that I don’t usually see. Which is totally cool. And let me tell you: the things this girl goes through; no scrap that, the things she puts herself through, she is expert at torturing herself with her guilt for the things she believes she has done. I love how she says that she is incapable of love and has no feelings inside of her but then in one of my favourite scenes, when a boy teases her sister, she proceeds to beat him up to a pulp. She is fierce, (my) Briony is and I felt fiercely protective of her and was completely on her side. She is also a little bit weird and I loved her even more for that.
And then, there is the romance. OH, FINALLY MY SWEET LORD OF TOTALLY AWESOME BOOKS, finally a YA romance I can get 100% onboard of. It starts slowly (no insta-love or insta-attraction) and it builds towards love from friendship as Briony and Eldric (*swoon*) share stuff like BOXING LESSONS and a bad-boy/bad-girl club in which they speak Real Latin (Real Latin = made up words like “Stupidubus”) and even as she says she can’t love him (because you know how she is incapable of love? Apparently she is also unlovable *sobs for my Briony*), you see she is totally falling in love and so is he and it is completely and totally swoon-worthy and then the ending has one of the BEST declarations of love I have seen and I hugged the book when I was done and could feel little love bubbles coming from eyes. Seriously.
Thea: [Dodges love bubbles]** Ok. I agree completely that Briony is an awesome specimen of a character. I personally don’t love her and want to put her in my pocket or anything like that – but she’s a fantastic narrator, and her multiple issues after years of self-loathing and emotional/psychological abuse are completely understandable and so ingrained in Briony’s psyche. I LOVED the way this was handled, how her memories are faulty, how she blocks the truth and replaces them with other scenes – because that is who Briony is, and her narrative is what makes this book.
I also enjoyed Eldric as a character, and I, too, was relieved that these two begin the story as friends (not as insta-drool-I-must-have-you-or-I-will-DIE attraction). The fraternitus they create, the gradual emergence of feelings – it’s good stuff. That said, I was a little less impressed with the “boxing lessons” (which is actually just one snippet of a scene), and the thing that always bothers me in these types of romances is how fragile the female character is. Even though Briony learns how to “box” (really, she lears how to make a fist without breaking a thumb, which is kind of intuitive, isn’t it?), it doesn’t really amount to anything because she can’t defend herself against anyone. Yes, she beats up a boy that teases her sister, but he’s younger and much smaller than her (which is actually kind of disturbing when you think about it, but it does make sense with Briony’s character).
And as for that final scene…I will just chalk it up to different tastes. I am probably one of the most immature people out there with regards to romance, so when it comes to dramatic, mutual-tearful declarations of love, I tend to crack up. I understand that this is a personal failing – but if you, dear readers, are anything like me, you’ll probably feel similarly at the end of Chime. There’s a whole lotta nacho cheese coming at you. You’ve been warned.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: If you can’t tell it by now, I loved this book with a force of a thousand supernovas. If I had to compare it with other books, I would say that Chime is a mixture of The Girl with the Mermaid Hair by Delia Ephron, Bleeding Violet by Dia Reeves and Liar by Justine Larbalestier and I LOVED all these books so of course I was bound to love Chime so much. As of now, it is my favourite 2011 book and I would not be surprised if it made my top 10.
Thea: I truly enjoyed Chime and think it is one of the most refreshing contemporary YA paranormal novels out there at the moment. To put things in Ana’s astronomy terms, let’s say, I enjoyed it with the force of the planet Mars. Accessible(-ish), somewhat familiar, ultimately really cool – but not my favorite astral body in the solar system.***
Ana: 9 – Damn Near Perfection (and leaning toward 10)
Thea: 7 – Very Good (leaning towards an 8)
----- * Thea’s Note: I disagree, I intensely dislike the cover, which feels like a bad cover of Seventeen or something. ** Thea’s Note: I always feel like the bad cop, the downer Scully to Ana’s Mulder, in these reviews! *** Thea’s Note: In case you were wondering, that would be Titan....more
The world has ended. Nations have fallen. The living are forced to huddle together in isolated pockets while the undead roam the gutted ruins of civilization. In the midst of this hopelessness and endless future of bleak lassitude, one zombie stands apart from his fellow undead. Unable to remember his name, other than the fact that it starts with Rrrr, this young zombie knows nothing about the man he once was. He’s wearing slacks, a button-up, and a silk red tie, so he might have been some kind of professional or aspiring temp worker. He can remember snippets of life, but nothing can fully penetrate the fog of his undead memory. But one thing “R.” knows is that he’s a little different from the others around him. Though speech is hard, R. has no limit to the eloquence of his mind – he laments the loss of humanity and feels intense guilt for the fact that he has to consume the living. But consume he must, because it is only in that consummation does R. catch flashes of emotion, glimpses of feeling; fleeting moments of color and life.
On his latest hunting trip, R. and his fellow zombies find an enclave of humans and proceed with business as usual – but as R. bites into one unfortunate man’s brain tissue, he experiences life more vividly than anything he’s ever seen it before. Reliving some of the young man’s – Perry’s – scattered memories, R. sees a beautiful blonde girl named Julie, and feels Perry’s blush of first love. That same girl, now a young woman, is in the present with R., about to meet the same grisly fate as the rest of the small human group. For the first time, R. feels a need stronger than that for meat and cannot overlook the pangs of his conscience. He makes a choice; to protect Julie. As R. takes Julie back to his ‘home,’ the two talk and learn from each other, and life will never be the same for human and zombie alike.
Together, R. and Julie will change the world.
When I started Warm Bodies, I had high hopes (tempered with caution, because there’s that cynic in me that always wants to butt her ugly head in and derail the fun). But HOLY. FREAKING. CRAP. I loved this book.
Allow me to repeat: I loved this book. I instantly fell in love with R., for his quiet observance, his eloquence, and his will to live (as strange as that may sound). I loved the unconventional love story, the emotional resonance of R. trapped within his rotting body, and the interplay between Perry’s memories and R.’s reality. When I first read the release for this book, I was a little wary because the pitch basically was “Romeo and Juliet! This is EDWARD CULLEN for ZOMBIES!” Eww. No. No no no. It’s not. This is a serious book; it is a poignant story that deserves to be taken seriously. It’s a love story that isn’t gross or hokey (though it easily could have been), that follows a boy that loves a girl and decides to follow her against all odds. I mean, how could you not fall in love with this:
I don’t know what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, or what will happen when it’s done, but at the verry bottom of this rising siege ladder, I at least know I’m going to see Julie again. I know I’m not going to say good-bye. And if these staggering refugees want to help, if they think they see something bigger here than a boy chasing a girl, then they can help, and we’ll see what happens when we say yes while this rigor mortis world screams no.
It is R.’s internal narrative, in his keen yet strange observations, that set the tone of this book and pulls at readers’ heartstrings. And, it is Julie’s brightness and her vividness as a flame of life and hope against an impossibly dreary world that attracts and keep these two unlikely characters together.
From a storytelling perspective, debut novelist Isaac Marion does a fine job of pacing this book, balancing bleak and gritty with hope and love. I loved this imagining of zombies as cognizant beings, with their own society and process of consciousness, as I loved the differentiation between “boneys” and the fleshier, newer zombies like R. or his friend M. Although I do think that the book stumbles in its last act, breaking that careful balancing act between hokey and earnest and tips towards the former with a rather heavy-handed Big Message (i.e. humanity did this to THEMSELVES!), the rest of the novel is so strong that this is forgivable. After all, as Stephen King says, it’s about the journey, not the destination. Right?
I loved this book, truly, madly, deeply. Warm Bodies is one of the most surprising zombie novels I’ve ever read, and easily on the shortlist for one of my favorite books of 2011....more
Ana: I will try my best to be coherent about this book and not to break out the caps lock too much but it will be hard because OH MY GOD. This is the book that rescued me from a horrible reading slump; it is the book that made me realise that Cat Valente is an AWESOME writer (which I already suspected but this settled the matter); it is a book that is so beautifully written and full of incredible imaginative twists and ideas that I constantly had a sense of wonderment reading it; but above all, this is a book I will treasure forever and keep close and go back to, many times in the future. I just know it.
Thea: I have been an unabashed Cat Valente fan ever since I picked up The Orphan’s Tales (thanks to the glowing reviews from trusted bloggers), and I have seriously loved her adult fiction. When Ana sent me an excitable email (replete with many exclamation points and capslocking) that The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland was available for free download, I joined in the jubilation and immediately scurried my way to Ms. Valente’s website. And then I read the book, and then I fell in love. This is the first book from Ms. Valente that I’ve read that doesn’t employ the nested story-within-a-story, alternating chapters, narrators, and storylines – and even without that particular flavor, Ms. Valente’s writing shines. I, like Ana, loved this book, and I, like Ana, plan on rereading and treasuring this gem of a novel countless times over.
On the Plot:
Ana: It opens one fine day, with (The Somewhat Heartless) Twelve-year-old September being invited to visit Fairyland by the Green Wind. She says yes (and how could she not, being a fierce and adventurous girl?) and travels forthwith by means of Leopard (which is obviously, the best way to travel, if you ask me). In Fairyland, she will have many adventures and meet new friends including a half-library Wyvern (who most certainly is NOT a dragon) and a blue boy named Saturday. But also: this is where she might lose many things (including her shadow) and meet the all-powerful Marquess who sends her on a quest to retrieve a mysterious casket and what lies inside may well change Fairyland forever.
I am in AWE, folks, in AWE at Cat Valente’s creativity. This book is so full of wonderfulness that it is difficult to know where to start. Perhaps with the narrative itself, with an omnipotent narrator who sometimes interrupts the story to speak directly to the reader. It is so easy to get this wrong, to have these interruptions jarring and disrupting the narrative but not here: here it works well, and it adds to the story rather than disturbing it.
Then there is the creativity, the imagination: like for example, a creature that believes himself to be the son of a library and another one that is a soap golem; there is a herd of wild bicycles as well as flying leopards.
But this is only SURFACE, because underneath each creature has an underlying idea or concept or issue that is addressed with subtly and beauty: from a search for self-identity (if Wyvern is not the son of a library, then who is he?) to the horrible truths of slavery; from selfless devotion to political unrest. This is a book that celebrates fairytales without ever being derivative and never forgetting that they can be dark and gruesome. It sort of reminds me of Peter Pan and Neverland and how every child wants to visit Neverland and its wonders but let’s not forget: it is indeed a dangerous place inhabited by bloodthirsty people including young boys who are there because their mothers and nannies lost them.
Because in the end, I think that the most important thing to say about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is: you cannot have adventures without grief. And there is no shying away from it. But despite the grief and darker undertones, there is a lot of love and friendship here enough to – I can’t resist any longer, allow me to break out the caps lock- FILL MY HEART WITH JOY.
And then, to make things even BETTER, this book has the most amazing illustrations!
I mean, seriously. How can anyone resist?
Thea: Yes, yes, yes. What Ana said. The Girl (I am truncating this title because it is cumbersome to type, and much like September, who loves “A through L” as her friend Wyvern’s name, it is far too many syllables) is a gorgeous, imaginative novel that celebrates the daring-do of youth, the magic of the unknown, and the pitfalls and horrors of power. Also, this is decidedly unlike any other novels I’ve read by Ms. Valente, not only because the narrative style is more traditional, but also because the prose is ever-so-slightly screwball (I mean that in the best way). I completely agree with Ana that the omniscient narrator is a fantastic touch and sets the overall tone for the novel – doing the whimsical, breaking-the-fourth-wall type of narration can easily go so wrong – providing levity and whimsy, but tempered with actual thematic depth (the aforementioned examinations of slavery, of polity, and so on and so forth). This is a tall order, and to accomplish all of that in a children’s book, without ever becoming preachy or ham-handed, or completely frivolous is flabbergasting. I am honestly in awe of how Ms. Valente managed to weave together some of the most absurd story elements (migrating bicycles, hello!) into a cogent, poignant story.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is an amalgam of some of my most treasured stories, conjuring comparisons to The Neverending Story, Peter Pan, but most of all, it feels to me like a modern, more-fun version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – and if anyone is worthy to earn comparison to these classic works of children’s fantasy literature (even surpassing them), it is Catherynne Valente.
On the Characters:
Ana: There is a whole plethora of wonderful characters in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland and I fell in love with every single one of them. I felt so bad for the lonely Soap Golem who was still waiting for the return of her Queen; I felt tremendously sorry for Saturday and how terrible it was that his entire life was about granting wishes and the horrendous way he was made to grant those wishes. Hey, I even sympathise with the villain, the Marquess, once her full story is disclosed – scrap that: I completely related to the Marquess and her motivations and maybe even rooted a little for her. But just a little.
Then of course, there is September, our main character, who is so fierce and a bit heartless that she leaves her house and her family behind without even thinking twice – but that decision is brought back and thought about throughout the entire book. She is dedicated, extremely loyal, compassionate, creative and just such a cool young heroine.
Thea: Yep, this is another one of those reviews where I am sitting in the back nodding my head emphatically, playing hype-man to Ana’s lead. What she said. I loved the lovely Soap Golem, and I loved SATURDAY, and I loved the Marquess (because, having been something of a heartless child myself, I have a soft spot for characters like this), and I loved A-through-L (or “Ell”) and the Green Wind and the leopard, and of course, more than anything, I loved September. September is not particularly pretty or smart or brilliant, but she is September – a normal, if slightly heartless, little girl from the decidedly unromantic land of Omaha, who is swept up by the Green Wind and embarks on an Adventure (with a capital “A”).
What is not to love about this book, I ask you? Nothing. It is perfect.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a small beautifully packaged bundle of perfect JOY. It is as awesome as a quest-coming of age story can be and I highly recommend it to everybody who loves fairytales, awesome heroines and beautiful writing. This goes straight into my top 10 of 2011.
Thea: I completely and wholeheartedly agree with Ana. It is a fantastical sort of bildungsroman (I have always wanted to use that word and something about Catherynne Valente encourages one to stretch and use vocabulary outside of one’s daily vernacular), a descriptive fairytale, and an imaginative feast of the bizarre and wonderful. I adored this book, and it too has a locked position as one of my top 10 books of 2011 (even if that is technically cheating since it was published prior to this year)....more
Lugh got born first. On Midwinter Day when the sun hangs low in the sky. Then me. Two hours later.
That pretty much says it all.
Lugh goes first, always first, an I follow on behind.
An that's fine.
That's how it's meant to be.
Since their birth, twins Saba and Lugh have never been separated. After their mother dies birthing their little sister Emmi and their father loses reason, Lugh and Saba still stick together, making what home they can in Silverlake, even as the lake dries up and the unforgiving desert claims a little more land each day. Lugh is the light to Saba's dark, the morning to her night. He goes first, and everyone listens to him. As long as they're together, that's all that matters to Saba. That's how it has always been, and how it always should be.
But then, on the heels of a devastating dust storm, a group of hooded men ride into their isolated home, killing their father and taking Lugh as their prisoner. Enraged and determined, eighteen year old Saba vows that she will find her brother and bring him home. With her stubborn nine year old sister Emmi in tow, Saba sets off across a desert wasteland to find Lugh, no matter the cost.
I am glad, my dear fellow readers. I am so glad that, like a miserly kid protecting her Lunchable desert Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, I hoarded this book until the very end of the year. Because Blood Red Road? It's everything I wanted. And then some.
Moira Young's debut novel is breathtakingly cinematic, both in description and in the pace of action, and it's easy to see why the film rights for the novel were scooped up so quickly (and by the illustrious Ridley Scott, no less) prior to publication. Reminiscent of old Hollywood Westerns (starring Saba as gunslinger), blended with a generous influence of Mad Max (Blood Red Road manages to embrace and pay homage to *both* the Road Warrior AND Beyond Thunderdome incarnations) and Ridley Scott's own Gladiator, tossed with one part impossible visual fantasy (at one point evoking that Adventures of Tintin trailer with a giant ship sailing over a sand dune sea), Young's Blood Red Road is a feast for the imagination. The story is, by definition, a dystopian and a post-apocalyptic novel, set in the dusty aftermath of "Wreckers" (aka our current high-tech society) who have ruined the world with their technology.[1. Again, this is all very Mad Max-ian. In a good way! A VERY good way.] Entire civilizations are swept under ever shifting layers of sand and dust, and the Earth is a parched, brutal place under the rule of a mad King who controls his minions with fear and an addictive drug called chaal. But beyond the sweeping desert vistas, the post-apocalyptic wasteland, and the non-stop action, the novel truly excels because of its characterizations - particularly Saba's character arc.
Wholly narrated in a style that eschews proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, the writing is - somehow, and don't ask me how Moira Young did it - absolutely fantastic. It's the kind of writing style that in less adroit hands could have become quickly tiresome and grating, and I'm usually the first person to run screaming from this type of persistent narrative device. And yet, in Blood Red Road it simply worked. Saba's voice and her narrative are so deeply, powerfully intertwined that there's never the slightest doubt that the dialect is genuine. This, dirty diction is completely, unequivocally Saba. And I loved it. How could I not fall in love with a prickly, stubborn, hardass heroine like Saba?
We're on our own. An I feel calm. It seems crazy . . . but I'm calm. Because now I see what I gotta do. An what I ain't gotta do, which is waste time thinkin that anybody's gonna help us. That somebody's gonna come along an rescue us. I cain't count on nobody but me.
Brash, abrasive, and deeply flawed - especially when it comes to the treatment of her baby sister - Saba is not a heroine that is particularly easy to love. Take the above quote, for example. Saba's strength and self reliance is admirable[2. And I loved this particular quote which makes me want to pump my fist in the air and scream TAKE THAT, PASSIVE YA HEROINES!], but I also love that Ms. Young explores the other side of the equation - because as strong as Saba is, she must learn to accept and appreciate others - in fact, she needs others. I loved this gradual change over the course of the book, best shown in Saba's relationship with Emmi - which stems from mutual dislike, to frustration, to desperation, to unconditional love.
There are a whole slew of wonderful secondary characters, too, from the fierce warrior women Free Hawks (who I loved intensely), to the villainous Pinch family, to the mysteriously mixed-motivated Tonton, to the wise crow Nero, to the cunning, charming, utterly winsome Jack. The romance built between Saba and Jack is, perhaps, a shade too convenient and quick, but I ate it up just the same.[3. So who else has read the book and wants to know what is going on with our mysterious Tonton leader? Hmm?]
Blood Red Road has been compared to The Hunger Games - and I can see shades of Katniss in Saba, though if I'm being completely honest, I think I prefer the self-honesty of Saba. To me, the better comparison is Patrick Ness's ineffable Chaos Walking books: not only because of prose and voice, not only because of action, but because of the near identical raw stubborn toughness and vulnerability of protagonists Saba and Todd.
For fans of characters and post-apocalyptic dystopias in the vein of Patrick Ness; for fans of action blended seamlessly with compelling, human character arcs; for readers yearning for a new heroine to cheer for wholeheartedly, Blood Red Road is for you.
Absolutely recommended, and undeniably on my list of favorite books of 2011. ...more
Ana: All Men of Genius has been marketed as a Steampunk retelling of Shakespeare’sOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers HERE
Ana: All Men of Genius has been marketed as a Steampunk retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. Well, I love Steampunk (when done well) and the two aforementioned plays are my favourites by their respective authors so I was super excited to read this. At the same time, I was quite wary as there is this really thin line separating great homage from simple reproduction. I need not have worried: Mr Rosen’s book is basically made of awesome and I loved every single second of it.
In fact, you will have to excuse me while I wax poetic all over this review.
Thea: I remember catching wind of this title right before BEA and then excitedly telling Ana that this sounded like an awesome candidate for a joint review – there’s the steampunk goodness PLUS the wonderful literary allusions/inspirations, not to mention the fun cover and clever title. It is, in short, the perfect amalgam of things that we Smugglers love. I went into this book expecting a delightful romantic comedy of errors and a lighthearted romp through a steampunkified Victorian London – and I am happy to report that All Men of Genius delivers exactly that, with some surprising depth to boot.
On the Plot:
Ana: Violet Adams is a brilliant inventor and mechanical genius who would love nothing more than to attend the world-famous Illyria College. Unfortunately for Violet, the College will not accept women, who are regarded by society as the lesser gender. But that will not stop Violet and aided by her twin brother Ashton and their best friend Jack, she comes up with scheme to masquerade as her brother and attend the colleague: her goal is to become the College’s best student and at the end of the year, reveal herself as a woman. Things get a little more complicated when Ernest, the Duke of Illyria and the headmaster of the College, becomes infatuated with Violet-as-Ashton (who reciprocates the feeling much to her own dismay) at the same time that his ward Cecily also develops feelings for the student. Violet has to deal with all of this and attend the lessons and concoct the experiment that will prove her genius amongst serious competition with other students. Meanwhile, there is something afoot in the labyrinth beneath the College where long lost secrets still dwell.
I can’t even begin to express how much I loved this book.
In terms of the plot it follows Violet and her friends during this one year at College and it deals with several different threads. In this alternate universe London, the College is a centre for scientific experiments in a proper Steampunk manner featuring not only automata and steam-powered machines but also biological/medical advancements in genetics that allow (terrible) experimentations with animals and even with human beings.
As an aside, this is probably my only main criticism of the book: that there is little ethical questioning about this (although some of the characters do show some horror to what some of the students are doing) but since learning that there will be a sequel, I hope this will be addressed somehow.
There is also the mystery of what is going on in the basement of the school which may or may not relate to a group of Mad Scientists that wish for World Nomination and that sounds a bit trite because well, not all Science Fiction needs to feature the mad conspiracies. BUT it not only kept me going and what’s the best thing about this, is that the eventual revelation is completely anti-climatic and I totally loved that it was so. It not only fit the story but more to the point it fit its mood and atmosphere.
And then of course, there is the scheme itself and how to keep Violet’s identity a secret from everybody; there is all the falling in love and falling out of love and love returned and love spurned. Most of it is a comedy of manners and a comedy of errors and I am a sucker for both especially when done with such aplomb. I mean, I loved everything about it: the writing, the narrative style which features an almost omniscient narrator, the banter between the characters and their adventures. This is where the novel follows the original plays very closely – if you are familiar with either play, you will know exactly where the story is going and who ends up with each other (well, more or less since Ashton don’t really play his original role, but more on that later). But what fascinated me the most is that even with that, this story was still fresh and original and the author’s own not only because of the Steampunk elements but because of how it developed. For example, it is very common in Shakespearian plays for characters to fall in love at first sight and this happens here when Jack falls in love with Cecily but she totally calls him on that – how is it possible that he can love her at first sight without knowing her?
More than that though, I loved how the story was set in a somewhat similar Victorian London and despite the scientific advancements, it was still a society with prejudices and sexism. I thought the author was at extremely ease with exploring and examining subtly and with compassion those issues, dealing with gender bias, sexism, racism and homophobia really well.
To sum up: All Men of Genius is charming, fun, funny, romantic and as the English would say, totally my cup of tea.
Thea: What Ana said. If you’re familiar with Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest, you can basically guess how All Men of Genius plays out. I loved the allusions, both obvious and subtle, to each play; Violet’s invention of a mechanical perambulator (in which neither a baby nor a novel can be forgotten or switched); the phonetic similarities between Ashton/Sebastian, Violet/Viola, Miriam/Maria, the delightful “Malcom Volio” for Malvolio; and so on and so forth. But more than the similarities in names and plot devices, I loved that this hybrid version of Wilde’s and the Bard’s comedy of mistaken identities has a much deeper examination of sexism, sexuality, and status. It’s actually incredibly impressive that Mr. Rosen is able to stay so close to the source material while translating it to a context that is both engrossing speculative fiction AND a bitingly relevant societal critique.
Like Ana, I was easily drawn in by the comedic elements of this story – Violet, dressed as a man, heads to Illyria to fulfill her lifelong dream and prove that a woman is just as eligible for a career in the sciences as a man. Like her inspirational Shakespearean counterpoint Viola, Violet defies convention in order to find a place in a society that forces women into set roles – and she’s not the only one to do so. Her twin brother, Ashton, also plays within the niceties towards outward facing society, but is an unapologetic “invert” (the Victorian term for homosexual) that loves as he wills – which is freaking awesome. There’s also Cecily, the sixteen year old ward (the embodiment both her Earnest namesake and Olivia from Twelfth Night) who is beautiful and believes herself to be in love with Violet-as-Ashton. But rather than stunting her character as a love-struck girl, Mr. Rosen gives her a voice beyond that of the blandly naive young ward and shows that part of the reason she falls in love with “Ashton” is because “he” treats her as an equal and admires her scientific skill and know-how. There’s also Miriam, Cecily’s governess, who is so much more than her Twelfth Night counterpart, Maria, with her desire for freedom, both socially and sexually. Long story short – I loved the way that Mr. Rosen managed to pay tribute to the plays that inspired this novel, but managed to make them relevant and thematically brilliant by dealing with sensitive issues of gender, sexuality, and social norms.
But let’s not forget about the Speculative Fiction element! After all, this is a steampunk novel set in an alternate Victorian London. Like Ana says, I think the charm of this book in terms of world/setting is in that Illyria is not a mere college devoted to the creation of dirigibles and automata. While Violet IS a mechanical genius, Illyria allows for other kinds of brilliance – from the genetically/biologically ambitious (Victor Frankenstein would have been gleefully at home here) to those who long to gaze at the stars and divine the meanings of their celestial movements.
The only plot element that I felt was slightly undercooked was that of young Volio and his nefarious schemes. The mystery of the school’s labyrinthine corridors and the secrets they harbor are the underlying impetus for the climax of the novel, and while it works in a wonderfully absurdist Wilde-esque way, it felt a bit of an easy way to pin everything on a main villain. Plus, by the end of the novel we only really learn a tiny bit about the mysterious society of Illyria – but as there’s a sequel in the works, I’m certain more will come to light in a future installment.
On the Characters:
Ana: If I loved the plot because it was so close to the originals, I loved the characters all the more because this is where All Men of Genius deviates from the original stories the most because the author took some of the characters into different paths and gave some of them voices.
A significant difference for example comes with Ashton, Violet’s twin brother who, in this story, is gay and although he is a bit of a secondary character, there is enough exploration of his difficult situation in a society that doesn’t accept queer people. At the same time, I loved how sister and his friends accepted his sexual orientation without any problems whatsoever.
There is quite a diverse cast of characters, the majority of them beautifully rendered in depth. I even felt that the villain had his reasons (but that might be because I secretly always felt bad for Malvolio in Shakespeare’s play). I loved the bittersweet relationship between another young, Sir Toby and the older Governess Miriam. I loved that Miriam was given a personality separate to what was happening to her ward Cecily, that she is just like Violet, an independent woman who wants to be able to do more with her life and be as free to love and have fun as she wants. There is this beautiful scene where Violet – just like Miriam- muses about the simple pleasure of going out with friends to a tavern to drink and be merry, a pleasure that is denied to her because she is a woman. And I loved that – I loved every single female character in this book because they had personalities and arcs of their own independently of any male counterpart even though all of them were involved in a romantic storyline. This to me, is awesome.
Thea: I completely and wholeheartedly agree. There are many familiar elements and homages paid in All Men of Genius, which makes those differences all the more potent. With his portrayal of Violet, Mr. Rosen gives our heroine not only the pluck and survival instincts of Viola, but also takes into account the context of Victorian England and prevailing sexism. Should Violet be caught in her disguise, she, like other women who dared to pose as men in order to gain an education, would be thrown in prison indefinitely (or worse). I loved that Violet addresses and weighs these possibilities against her own actions and makes the conscious decision to go to Illyria, because the stakes are so high. I also loved that while Violet discovers freedom when she poses as a man, she also discovers her own desire to be and grow as a woman. The balance is wonderfully wrought, and I loved the finesse and skill that Mr. Rosen shows his heroine.
I also have to agree with Ana that all of the female characters in this piece are fantastic and my easy favorites – Cecily grows in her own confidences and becomes a young woman, but it is the widowed Miriam that captured my heart. A governess, a widow, but still a young woman yearning for freedom and life outside of marriage, Miriam’s quest for happiness was completely unexpected (to me) and added a depth and nuance to a novel that was for the large part a sparkling, light comedy. I also adored Ashton and his support for his sister and his resolve to be happy, just as I loved the easygoing prankster Jack, who also grows and learns what it means to truly love someone. Finally, there’s the Duke of Illyria himself, the Ernest of this piece (who is also equal parts Orsino). Ernest is a sympathetic hero that one can’t help but feel for – romantic and soft-spoken, his romance with Viola-as-Ashton (and as Viola) is hilarious and heartfelt. There’s a kiss that literally comes out of nowhere that had me gleefully laughing, and I’m kind of glad that Lev Rosen goes there (I always wondered about the attraction between Orsino and “Sebastian” in Twelfth Night, and I think the way it is handled here, with much introspection, is very clever indeed).
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: As you can see, I loved this book with all my heart to the point I can hardly contain myself. It’s been a while since I had so much unreserved fun reading a book. All I can say now is that All Men of Genius is an Ana-Book through and through and I hugged it when I finished reading it. It has a secure spot on my top 10 this year.
Thea: I also truly loved the book, and like Ana, had a very fun time reading it. Absolutely recommended to all, and a Notable Read of 2011....more
Ana: To say that I was anxiously waiting for this book would be the understatemenOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Ana: To say that I was anxiously waiting for this book would be the understatement of the century. I have nothing but words of praise for Laini Taylor’s books and in fact, I would go as far as to say that Lips Touch has some of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read. So yes, I was very anxious to read Daughter of Smoke and Bone and all this anxiety panned out: this is one of the most incredible books I’ve read in a while with an awesome main character, beautiful writing and a good story.
Thea: I think everyone was excited for the new release, and I was no exception! Everything that I have read from the illustrious, National Book Award finalist Ms. Taylor has been fantastic - featuring beautiful writing and memorable characters - so I was thrilled when I saw the huge publicity push behind Daughter of Smoke and Bone (but also the teeniest bit anxious, because, you know, it's The Hype Machine). After reading the book, I have to agree with Ana that my anxiety was largely unfounded. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is another gorgeously written story with a wonderful heroine and some seriously awesome worldbuilding and characteristically lovely prose. My only reservation? Well...it's also a big ol' paranormal romance (which blindsided me about halfway through the book). But more on that in a bit.
On the Plot:
Ana: It’s going to be super hard to talk about Daughter of Smoke and Bone because the main storyline contains a heavy element of mystery that is slowly revealed to the reader (who follows this unveiling through Karou’s eyes – what is new to us is new to her as well), and since this is not only beautifully done but also, AWESOME, I feel it would be to the detriment of any reader to have it spoiled so I will try my best to refrain from going into too much detail about those revelations. Suffice it to say is that the main storyline works in several lawyers and they involve not only the mystery of Karou’s own existence but also that of the Elsewhere - an entire world existing apart (and yet connected to ours).
In terms of the story, one of the best things for me how there is a stark contrast between the beginning and the ending of the novel. At first, it seems the story is quite mundane until it becomes something rather extraordinary. There is this entire separate world, with its own mythologies and stories and this raging war between two species: the Seraphim and the Chimera and it is all so dramatic; and even though it might sound as though you’ve heard it all before because the word Seraphim and War are usually conjoined , I guaranteed you haven’t. This story is unique and it’s unique because of the Chimera, and everything about their lives. And I love the ideas behind this story (politics, and mythos, and hatred and love) and how everything comes together perfectly in the end and I will just say cryptically, that by the time everything (or almost everything) was revealed and the past and the present combine it was like, my mind = blown.
The setting too is quite different: part of the story is set in Prague and it is so vividly incorporated into the story that it was like being there again. I loved a lot of it was set in Josefov, the old Jewish neighbourhood, and one my favourite places when I visited. Setting and story aside, the other main aspect of this book is of course, the writing: anyone who has ever read Laini Taylor and loved her books, will probably know what I am talking about. Her talent lies in achieving what very few can: her writing is lyrical without being purple; it is beautiful and dramatic without being cheesy; it is descriptive without being info-dumpy; it is atmospheric and yet atmosphere never overshadows.
If I have one bone (hee) to pick would be how extremely romantic this book turned out to be and it features the type of romance that I seem to dislike very intensely these days: the insta-love/no holds barred/soul mate type of romance. HOWEVER. In all fairness, even though there is a heavy side of romance, I don’t think that LOVE is the point of this book especially considering how it ended. I think there is a lot more to this story and the main romance is perhaps the catalyst to everything that is going to happen and I am totally on board with that.
Ultimately, I loved this book wholeheartedly, romance and all. It was a very sensuous experience: read it slowly, enjoying the ride, savouring the writing, and being seduced by the language.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree with Ana regarding the nuances and awesomness that is Laini Taylor's writing in this novel, as well as the strengths of the worldbuilding and mythology that underlies Daughter of Smoke and Bone. The setting of Prague is so lovingly detailed (as is Morocco, and the realm of Elsewhere, I might add), I felt as though all of the details truly exist in real life - not just the tourist landmarks, but the quiet workshop that is home to Brimstone, the pub called Poison with its homely goulash and a statue that reminds Karou of Pestilence, Karou's impossibly small yet comically high-ceilinged apartment. Ms. Taylor has a beautiful way with imagery, and her words bring Karou's worlds to life in this novel.
Beyond the aesthetic, I also have to express my admiration for Ms. Taylor's writing in regards to plot. The story can be divided in two basic sections: the Before, in which Karou lives a mundane (ok, maybe not so mundane, but at least routine in its oddness) life as an art student in Prague by day and errand-runner for the Chimaera by night, always feeling like something is missing from her life but never quite sure what it is. Then there's the After, in which shit goes down and we learn the truth of the Chimaera and their battle with the Seraphim, and what role Karou plays in this strange, war-torn world. It's a testament to Laini Taylor's writing that the both parts of the book gel so well - for even though there's a lack of direction in the Before part of the book, and even though the details of the war between the Chimaera and Seraphim are so rushed and compressed in the After part, I was so completely immersed in the novel that the analytical part of my brain was happy to take a backseat to pure enjoyment. Plus, there are so many wonderfully imaginative elements to the novel that have only begun to be teased out - the use of teeth and jewels and their importance to Brimstone, the concept of "wishes" and their denominations, the later revelations in the book - and I cannot wait to see what happens next.
Of course, while I enjoyed the writing and the worldbuilding and all of the different elements encompassed by Daughter of Smoke and Bone...there's also The Big Fat Romance. I am not a fan of the Insta-love/Romeo-and-Juliet/Must-Have-You-Or-DIE! type of love stories so popular in these types of books. In fact, I had not even the slightest inkling of an idea that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was, actually, a paranormal romance. But it is. And that completely blindsided me about halfway through the book (in fact, it is the romance that is the breaking point, if you will, that separates the Before from the After). The elements are all very, very familiar. There's the dark angel that is so Hurt and Brooding and Tortured by his lost love...until he sees THE GIRL, who is Gorgeous and Innocent and Pure and He MUST HAVE HER even though it is against [Insert type of paranormal creature here] Rules and Mores.
That said, to simply boil down Daughter of Smoke and Bone to the Paranormal Romance label is to do the novel a disservice. Because, you know what? The book is in fact really, really good. And, once you get past the copious amounts of nacho cheese, there's a lot more to the story than you'd expect.
On the Characters:
Ana: This section is going to basically be a love-fest. I talked about the stark contrast between the beginning and the ending of the novel and this is even more clear when it comes to its main character Karou. She starts off as a typical teenager, enjoying her life, going to art school, having friends and boyfriend problems, spending magical wishes on foolish things like wishing her hair to be blue. As the story progresses, Karou changes – in more ways than you can imagine but even though so much happens she remains basically the same in terms of personality and strength. I loved, LOVED Karou: she is that type of character that knows her own worth, who can fight a good battle but at the same time she is not afraid of being vulnerable and admitting how much she wants to be loved, how lonely she feels. I loved her loyalty to her friends and above all, to her adopted family – the Chimera who raised her. Even though there were a lot of frustration there, for all the unanswered questions and secrets kept from her, she still looked at this family with love and devotion. What happened in the end – both the unveiled secrets and the actions - just about broke my heart. But I loved how she reacted to it all and I have nothing but respect for this character.
Then, of course there is Akiva, another main character who more or less shares the narrative point of view with Karou. Little by little it is revealed why he is important and why. Although I understood his importance to the story and appreciated part of it, to be honest, I was less impressed with Akiva as a character – both his physical description (impossible beauty) and his demeanour and emotional state reminds me of too many Paranormal Romance heroes.
And of course, there is Madrigal – an awesome Chimera, a warrior tired of war, who carries this secret and whose actions in the name of love have terrible, unexpected repercussions.
Another aspect I loved about the characters in the novel: that they are all vulnerable and strong, that they are earnest but make mistakes. I loved that the main characters are moved by love and good intentions but those sometimes are not enough and can and will have terrible consequences. It is totally sad and messed up but incredibly moving as well. As I said before, love is a catalyst to something else – what comes next, I am simply dying to know.
Thea: I also share the Karou love, and for mostly the reasons that Ana mentions. She's a young girl that has seen and been through A Lot - she's never known who she really is or where she comes from, just that she was taken in by a huge hulking chimaera beast-man named Brimstone, and with snake-woman Issa and the small, winged Kishmish she was raised in a strange but loving home as the human surrogate daughter of devils. Karou is passionate and honest, and, as her name suggests, she represents hope. That doesn't mean she's a perfect character - in fact, of all of the "wishes" she takes in the novel, ALL of them are spent on herself and on frivolous things. She wishes for blue hair, for an enemy's eyebrows to grow thick and fat as caterpillars no matter how much they are plucked, for her bedsprings not to squeak, and so on and so forth. But she's also a dear friend and loyal, as Ana says, and she will do anything for those she loves, and that endears her as a heroine.
As for Akiva, well, I think Ana has kind of said it all. He's very much your typical Tortured Paranormal Romance (Anti)Hero. You know the type. The guy that has loved and lost and thinks nothing can save his soul from the abyss of darkness...until he sees HER. Blargh. Not my favorite, but, to be fair, Akiva is better written than any of his unfortunately popular ilk.
Much more fascinating to me were the side characters - the fallen Izil, the Chimaera Brimstone and his quiet, fierce countenance. The serpant lady Issa, and Kishmish. And, of course, the tragic mysterious figure of Madrigal. These are the characters that made the novel sing for me, and for whom I will eagerly be awaiting upon my return to Karou's story.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana:Daughter of Smoke and Bone is, as of now, one of my favourite books of 2011 and as a Totally Awesome Book, it has a reserved spot on my top 10.
Thea: Reminiscent of N.K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, featuring a strong heroine, fascinating worldbuilding, and luscious prose, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a fantastic novel that resonates with the twin themes of hope and love. It's not the perfect book for me, but it's certainly a very good one, and one that I recommend to all.
Ana: I approached Fury with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement bOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers HERE
Ana: I approached Fury with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Excitement because I love Greek Mythology and I love the idea of the Furies as personifications of vengeance and one of my personal favourite stories of all time features the Furies: Neil Gaiman’s The Kindly Ones (Sandman Volume 9). Trepidation because I’ve read some really bad Greek retellings of late and have become wary of what seems to be the latest YA fad. I did not need to worry. Fury takes its Greek inspiration as it should be: dark and unrepentant and then adds awesome contemporary YA issues to the mix to create one of my favourite novels of 2011.
Thea: I, too, was a little wary when I picked up Fury, but also incredibly excited and optimistic. Yes, many of the so-called Greek “retellings” we have read of late have been disappointing (to say the least) – but I couldn’t let that deter me. And wouldn’t you know it? I absolutely LOVED Fury. Brutal, vindictive, and utterly merciless, these furies are the real deal. It’s not the furies that make the book, though, but the protagonists. I don’t know if it’s one of my favorite novels of the year, but it’s definitely on the notable list.
On the Plot:
Ana: Anyone looking for cookie-cutter story about likeable characters better look elsewhere now: Fury is nowhere near anything like that. It is definitely more horror than paranormal/fantasy and unlike your typical paranormal YA, the danger is real and the characters suffer.
It features two main protagonists, Emily and Chase, who narrate this story in alternating chapters. Both are extremely unlikeable characters who have done horrible stuff (more on that later) and who start being following by these three girls. Chase becomes increasingly attracted to and obsessed with one of them whereas Emily is haunted by another. Soon enough it becomes clear to the reader that these girls are otherworldly until eventually it is revealed that they are the three Furies of the Greek Mythology out for vengeance for wrongdoings and Chase and Em are only their latest targets.
Here is the deal: I love the idea of the Furies but not because I condone vengeance/revenge but because it is a great way of dealing with this very topic and I can’t express how well Elizabeth Miles did this with Fury. The Furies are expertly incorporated into the story: first of all, they are as merciless and ruthless as they should be, and then there is the fact that their presence is very subtle as they are there in the background meting out revenge almost insidiously. Their presence creeps up little by little in the lives of Chase and Emily. This is psychological torture and horror at its best because it messes up with people’s heads, really pushing over the edge those who were already feeling guilty.
And this is what is awesome about this book: it takes the subject of crime and punishment and it opens it all up for discussion. It is not about glorifying vengeance at all, quite the contrary. Emily and Chase are terrible people who have done terrible things and they are guilty beyond any doubts. But do they deserve being punished like they are by the Furies? Do they deserve being punished at all? We are talking about flawed characters, teenagers just starting to live their lives and have made really bad choices and there is a real discussion to be had about the limits of forgiveness and the limits of punishment and whether people deserve second chances or not.
The author does make the Furies true to their Greek form but she also wrote the humans true to theirs as well: flawed, complex, prone to mistakes and also, prone to fight for their right to not have their fates decided by someone else. And that is really, really cool.
Thea: I completely agree with Ana. If you are looking for some typical teenage paranormal romance, in which a fury falls in love with, like, this HAWT high school dude because they are both just, like, misunderstood, think again. This is a brutal book that isn’t afraid to have ugly protagonists or go against the trend of romantic drivel so omnipresent in YA “retellings” today. No, Fury doesn’t flinch or sugar-coat anything – in this sense, it is as vindictive as its eponymous harpies.
Elizabeth Miles essentially writes a psychological thriller with a paranormal edge with her debut novel – as Ana says, the terror builds gradually over the course of the book for the dual protagonists. Em has harbored a long-standing crush on her best friend Gabby’s boyfriend and finally acts on that attraction when her bff is out of town; Chase is literally from the wrong side of the tracks and will do anything to fit in – even when it comes at the cost of those around him. Then, three beautiful girls arrive in their small, wintry town, and begin to insinuate themselves in Em and Chase’s lives…
As Ana says, the message of this book is NOT one of glorifying furies or vindictiveness. Rather, Fury is a smart novel that stays true to the furies of Greek myth, as well as the very familiar flaws of humans. Even though Em and Chase have done horrible things, they are rendered as sympathetic because they are people – and readers, privy to their thoughts and emotions, understand their motivations and know that they are just regular people, struggling to make their way in the world. So who, then, has the right to judge them or punish them for their actions? Is it OK for Furies to mete out their particular brand of cruel justice? In Fury, the answer is a resounding no. I love that Ms. Miles doesn’t try to glorify or romanticize furies in any way, but rather critiques and explicates the mythological creatures.
From a pure writing perspective, Elizabeth Miles does a fantastic job of building tension and letting the horror of this novel unfold slowly – a glimpse of a girl here, a crushed red flower there. Tautly written and suspenseful, Furies does stick with familiar tropes – but the book also takes some huge risks. By the second half of the book something BIG happens (completely unexpected and practically unheard of in YA books, especially of the paranormal persuasion), and things kick into high gear. Furies builds up to a frantic crescendo of action and reaches a heartbreaking conclusion. I cannot WAIT to see what happens in the next book.
On the Characters:
Ana: With regards to the characters, the most outstanding quality of protagonists Chase and Emily is how unlikeable they are. Even though I couldn’t stomach the two, I could see they were really messed up teens, Chase most of all. That doesn’t excuse their truly regrettable behaviour (Chase was a bully and a jerk; Emily was stealing her best friend’s boyfriend) but they both had a degree of earnestness and naivety that made them almost sympathetic.
In fact the vast majority of characters in the book were just a huge bunch of creeps, bullies and bigots and the important thing is that they are not represented as heroic or in any way even remotely positive. I mention this because I read a few reviews on Goodreads calling out the slut shaming and bigotry – but I thought these were portrayed as BAD things and not condoned by the text in any way.
Finally, I need to mention my favourite character: Drea. She is a very secondary character who eventually helps Emily to figure out who the Furies are and someone, whom, I hope, will have her own arc in the sequel. Out of all characters, Drea is perhaps the only one who could be described as truly heroic in a more traditional way and I loved that she is the one to voice what this book is really about:
You don’t know anything, Emily Winters. All you know is your own little world and your own little life. But listen. The Furies aren’t doing anything good. I don’t want them to do anything other than disappear. Because what happens when I make a mistake? Who decides my fate? Me. Or at least the people around me. Not some otherworldly demon-goddess chick hell-bent on destruction.
Thea: I actually disagree with Ana because I found both Em and Chase to be extremely sympathetic characters, despite their actions and missteps. The thing is, no one is perfect. Everyone screws up. People cheat on their significant others, they laugh at the expense of someone else, they say cruel things, they bully, they fight, and they backstab. In high school, this is even more true as teens are just realizing the scope of their actions and struggling to grow up. I actually applaud Ms. Miles for this ugly, unflinching look at the actions of teenagers – so many times, high school feels so sanitized in YA novels (especially when there are vampires or whatever paranormal entity involved). Everyone has done something they are not proud of, and we just happen to be watching Em and Chase when they do those things.
Chase’s actions are much more dramatic than Em’s, but even though he has been a colossal asshole, reading his narrative, one understands his fear, and anger, and sense of impotence in a world where his friends get everything they want, while he has to pretend and struggle so hard to fit in. A poor kid living in a trailer with his mom, Chase has fought tooth and nail his way up the social ladder at school, and will do anything to protect his standing – and this is from where Chase’s motivations stem. Proud, desperate, and with enormous abandonment issues, it’s easy to see where Chase is coming from.
Em is also laid bare for the world with her narrative. Although she acts on her off-limits crush, Em isn’t just a backstabbing bitch that gleefully throws herself at her best friend’s boyfriend, Zach. Even though she does a horrible, horrible thing by betraying Gabby’s trust, we see that she feels incredible guilt for her actions and justifies the relationship because she genuinely thinks that Zach loves her and not Gabby, and will break the news to her soon. It’s a familiar tale, and I loved that instead of judging these teens for their actions, Ms. Miles shows them as real people. We understand these characters, we sympathize with them because they are reflections of reality. Fury certainly doesn’t condone their actions, but these characters aren’t demonized, either. And I think that is what sets the novel apart.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Fury is an edgy, dark Paranormal YA which incorporates elements of Greek Mythology in a way that blew my mind away. THAT’s how you do Greek Mythology-meets-Paranormal YA, folks. Highly recommended.
Thea: I wholeheartedly agree. Fury completely took me by surprise, and is the perfect antidote for lackluster retellings and paranormal mediocrity. Absolutely recommended....more
Rosalinda Fitzroy is the daughter of the most powerful parents in the world. Her mother, a beauty and high society darling, and her father, the CEO of international conglomerate UniCorp, both adore and dote on their obedient, darling little princess. So, when Rose finds herself being awakened by a boy (via mouth to mouth resuscitation, hardly a real Prince Charming kiss), not her usual motherly wakeup with a champagne luncheon, she is terrified and disoriented. Rose learns that she has been in stasis for sixty-four years, and during her long sleep the world has ended and been reborn again. Everyone that Rose has ever known is dead, including her parents and her boyfriend, Xavier. Thrust into a world in which she is an utter outcast, though she is an heiress to an immense fortune (much to the frustration of UniCorp executives and stakeholders), Rose is a stranger in a strange land. Her peers at school avoid her and treat her like a ghost – all except Bren, the boy who found Rose to begin with, and Otto, an alien-human Unicorp genetic experiment who is even more of an outsider than Rose. As Rose struggles to assimilate to her new surroundings, memories and long-dormant, half-forgotten truths begin to surface. Someone is out to hurt her, and she must be able to come to terms with her dark, troubled past in order to survive.
At first glance, A Long Long Sleep seems, and sounds, vaguely familiar. Certainly there are similarities to a slew of soft, so-called SF titles on the young adult market – Beth Revis’s underwhelming Across the Universe immediately comes to mind. BUT A Long Long Sleep has what these other novels do not; namely, characters, patience, and heart. To put it simply: A Long Long Sleep broke my heart. I am not an emotional person, dear readers, so it is a huge thing when I feel truly moved by a book on an emotional level. I loved this book with its myriad complications, messy human emotions, and fragile relationships cast asunder by the ravages of time. Ms. Sheehan’s debut is haunting, fraught with sadness and loss. This book is so very powerful. I will say it again, because sometimes the simplest statement sums up everything:
I loved this book.
For all that it is billed as a Dystopian, post-Apocalyptic novel with a scifi bend, A Long Long Sleep is a character-centric novel. It’s a study of a girl that has been abandoned and left to sleep while the world has been ravaged by war and death, and then reshaped without her. It’s the story of this same girl, who is 100 but has the body and mind of a sixteen year old, who seems passive and bland and immature, but in reality has layers upon layers of hidden depth. It’s the story of this deceptively simple, naive-seeming character, whose complexity is revealed over the course of her narrative, resonating with the power of raw grief, anger, and passion, bottled up over the course of decades in prolonged, chemical slumber.
You see, there’s something wrong with Rose; there’s something about her past that we don’t know right off the bat but suspect from the outset of the novel. This something develops slowly, menacingly over the course of the book, and when we finally learn the truth it’s all the more devastating. It’s devastating because for all that this is a novel set in the future, it’s also a book about relationships and love, about power and abuse and the dark far-ranging damage it can wreak on a child’s psyche. Rose may start the book as a passive, frightened girl, but she grows so much over the course of the novel as she awakens from her protective cocoon of disengagement and becomes the strong young woman she truly is. Rose’s character arc is so very cathartic, and I loved every bit of this thorny, artistic heroine with a troubled past.
What’s even more impressive about this novel, however, is that this depth and nuance of character applies not just to Rose, but to others. The boy that awakens Rose, Bren, has his own depth and realism as a teenage boy and is likeable enough, but the characters that stole my heart were Otto and Xavier. Xavier, Rose’s lost love from her life before being stassed for over sixty-years, and the memories/flashbacks of the strange but loving relationship are haunting and beautiful in equal measure, as their history is immensely revelatory and so very heartbreaking. Not a day goes by that Rose does not think of Xavier and not a day goes by that she does not draw his face in her art. And then, in the present, there’s Otto – the alien-human boy, created by the same corporation that Rose has become heiress to, who cannot speak but can read minds through touch. I loved the relationship that unfolds between Otto and Rose, as outcasts that find comfort in each other. There were so many unexpected turns to this and other relationships, from Rose’s past to her future, with her family and with who she loves.
At its core, this is what A Long Long Sleep is really about: love. Not just romantic love, but all different kinds of love. The love between a parent and child; the kind of selfish love that can be twisted into something ugly and abusive; the rosy glow of first love; the kind of love borne of complete understanding and friendship; and, most importantly of all, the love of oneself.
I know my plain words aren’t enough to do this beautiful book justice, but what I can say is this: I implore each and every person to read this emotionally wrenching, bittersweet journey of a novel. A Long Long Sleep is easily one of the best books I have read in 2011, and I look forward to much more from this promising new author....more
So says Victor’s father, when he learns the truth of his son’s desperate explorations into the heart of darkness. Victor and his identical twin brother, Konrad, have lived a charmed life at Chateau Frankenstein. Doted on by loving parents, treated to a rigorous liberal education, and given the companionship of their adopted distant cousin Elizabeth and neighbor Henry, at fifteen years of age the twins want for nothing. Though both Victor and Konrad are identical in appearance, however, the twins are very different. While Konrad is beloved by all thanks to his easy charm and has both a sharp mind and is quick to pick up any sort of athletic feat, Victor is more aloof and must work hard to even come close to his brother’s intellectual or physical prowess. And, unlike his twin, Victor burns with an unmatched passion and curiosity that is frightening in its intensity. When Konrad falls mortally ill due to a strange disease of the blood, Victor watches as doctors try all manners of treatments to no avail. Frustrated with the failings of science, Victor turns to the Frankenstein Chateau’s forbidden Dark Library, hidden in the mansion’s secret passages, and searches for an alchemical remedy that can save his brother. With the help of Elizabeth and Henry to gather the necessary ingredients, and the expertise of fallen alchemist Polidori, Victor takes on the impossible and sets out to create the Elixir of Life. At what cost does the elixir come, though? And what urges might this dark endeavor stir in young Victor?
If you are familiar with Mary Shelley’s masterpiece, you will know how certain events must play out – which means This Dark Endeavor is a tragic novel from the beginning, with an air of inevitability. You know of Victor Frankenstein and his hubris, of his Monster and the tragedy that follows him. You know of his studies at Ingolstadt, and the fate of his family and future wife. As Frankenstein is one of my favorite classics, I was both thrilled and a bit frightened to read this prequel (though my fears were insignificant, given the trust I have in the talented Mr. Oppel). And wouldn’t you know it? This Dark Endeavor surpasses all expectations, brushes aside any residual fears, and is an ode to Mary Shelley’s Victor Frankenstein in all the right ways. Once again, I find myself lost for words and can only describe my feelings for This Dark Endeavor in the simplest way: I love this book.
Loyal to its source material in spirit and tone, This Dark Endeavor manages to take the gothic tale of Shelley’s ambitious, tragic narrator and extrapolate Victor’s character to his detailed childhood. The fifteen year-old Victor of This Dark Endeavor is passionate to a fault, deeply curious, and insatiably hungry for answers. The invention of a mortally ill twin brother as the catalyst for Victor’s unrestrained descent into alchemy and galvanism is ingenious, giving us a way to sympathize with this tragic protagonist – we see the seedlings of obsession planted in this novel and cultivated of the best intentions, just as we see how Victor’s intensity has the power to inspire and to frighten. I love this extra layer of color Mr. Oppel gives young master Frankenstein, rendering Victor a much more complex young man than just an arrogant, intelligent boy that will one day create a monster. THe other characters are also expertly drawn, with the tension between brothers a palpable thing throughout the book. As much as Victor may have passion and conviction, he sees himself as the imperfect brother to Konrad’s perfection, the dark to Konrad’s light. And while it is undeniable that Victor loves his brother, there are moments in the book where jealousy rears its ugly head, and Victor himself is afraid of his motivations.
Elizabeth, a distant cousin to the Frankensteins, is a perfect foil for both Konrad and Victor – she’s angelic and religious to Konrad’s nature, but at the same time has an animal wildness to her that answers Victor’s own.1 Henry Clerval, another familiar face from the original novel, is another interesting character – less adventurous but unfalteringly loyal to his friends and brave at heart when it counts, Henry balances the intensity that Victor brings. And, of course, there’s also the mysterious alchemist Polidori (a name you might recall in the creation of Shelley’s novel), who helps the teens create their elusive Elixir.
And I haven’t even said anything about the story, yet! While the characters are superb, the novel itself is a tantalizing adventure, fraught with danger and cloaked in a lusciously dark, evocative atmosphere. Chateau Frankenstein, an imposing castle enfolded by the Geneva woods, has never felt more real. There are midnight excursions for rare plants, underground caverns, alchemical brews, dungeons, and secret laboratories. There is so much to This Dark Endeavor, and I loved every second of this novel. For the fan of Mary Shelley, for the student that might struggle to find a way to connect with the older iteration of Victor Frankenstein, for the bright-eyed reader that wants to try something new, dark and delectable, This Dark Endeavor awaits. One of my top 10 favorite reads of 2011....more
The monster first showed up after midnight – as they do – calling his name: Conor. For all intents and purposes, Conor should be terrified and yet he isn’t because there are things that terrify him more. Like for example, the nightmare. The one he has been having a lot lately, the one he’d rather not talk about. Just like he’d rather not talk about being bullied at school; or about not being on speaking terms with his former best friend Lily; or about his mom’s cancer treatments.
Conor is really not having the best of times which is why it sounds completely ridiculous to him when this monster, a creature out of the worst nightmares (or perhaps, not the worst nightmares, for they are of a different kind) shows up to tell him stories. He says he will tell Conor three stories and at the end of it, Conor will have to tell a fourth and that story will be the truth.
I don’t know what I was expecting from A Monster Calls but it most certainly wasn’t this…this explosive awesomeness. I did not expect this book be this exceptional and there is really no better word for it.
How can a book be about lessons without being about lessons? How can a book be subtle and yet so completely obvious? How can a book be funny and yet so tremendously sad? How can a story be so kind when it deals with such harsh realities? How can a book speak about humanity in general and about one person in particular and make sense and connect both in all of their greyness?How can a book have so many truths inside its pages that it makes me feel like it was written for ME?
I don’t know. I just know that A Monster Calls is all of those things and more. It is superb in its storytelling as it celebrates storytelling itself as the Monster tells his stories. It is unforgettable as it follows a young boy dealing with the saddest thing of all: the prospect of losing a mother. It is hopeful and beautiful even as it leads to the liberal production of heartfelt tears.1
Sometimes people ask me why I read this or why I read that: Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Middle Grade, you name it, I have been asked why I read it. The answer is really, really simple:
I do it because I love good stories and I don’t care what shape or form (or genre or category) they appear before me. I do it because just like the Monster says in this very book:
“Stories are the wildest things of all”.
And I couldn’t be happier with my choices (and this is my own truth), by allowing myself to search for stories anywhere, I have encountered two of the most fabulous stories I have ever read in the space of a few weeks. Incidentally, both are children books with illustrations. The first was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente and the other is of course, this one. Both are a triumph of the imagination and of the heart, both are incredibly powerful in their storytelling. And I am so glad that I have found these two stories out in the wild and that I have been able to know them.
It bears repeating: for this feeling alone, for feeling like my world expanded when I finished those pages, for getting to know these wonderful stories and these characters, this is why I read....more
For two years, William James Henry has lived with and served the most preeminent Monstrumologists the world has ever known, Dr. Pellinore Xavier Warthrop. For two years, he has skittered around the abyss of ultimate darkness, narrowly averting the onslaught of Anthropophagi and the madness of the Outiko, all in service to the Monstrumologist, who is the only thing young Will has in the world. In The Isle of Blood, a mysterious package borne by a terrified courier lands on the Monstrumologist's doorstep in New Jerusalem, Massachusetts - a "gift" from the charismatic Englishman and madman (as well as nemesis to Pellinore Warthrop), Jack Kearnes. The package is one of the greatest prizes in Monstrumology: a nidus ex magnificum, or nest made of human entrails, preserved and held together by the pwder ser, the rot of the stars. This nidus promises madness and horror to any that touch it, infecting man with an incurable affliction that will consume and ravage his mind and body. Will gets to see this firsthand, as the unfortunate courier could not resist curiosity, and has touched the nidus. The man begins to change, his skin rotting and translucent, his eyes sensitive to light, his appetite so great that he begins to consume his own organs and appendages.
While the nidus is one of the greatest prizes in Monstrumology and Pellinore now is in possession of the only nest, the true prize and holy grail of the study is the creator of the nidus: the fearful Typhoeus Magnificum. The father of all monsters. The Unseen One. Kearnes gifting the nidus to the Warthrop can only mean that he is on the way to find the magnificum - and that is something Warthrop cannot stand to suffer. The race is on to find the great monster, with Will Henry once again following his doctor - but perhaps this time, he follows him too far to ever truly return.
These are dark times, and The Isle of Blood is a dark, dark book. I cannot even begin to truly explain the depths that consume our heroes in this installment, or the impossible questions that Will and Warthrop are forced to answer. Unlike the first two books, this third installment has Will journeying into the heart of darkness, scaling the mountains of madness, and gazing into the Oculos Dei. It is in this novel that Will finds and confronts the Typhoeus Magnificum; the Faceless One of a Thousand Faces; das Ungeheuer; the Monster.
And it is terrifying.
While the other two books, or folios i-vi, are similarly narrated by Will Henry, they have dealt largely with the figure of the Monstrumologist and his motivations and complexity. In contrast, The Isle of Blood is undoubtedly Will Henry's book. Not only are Will and his Monstrumologist separated for the first time (when Pellinore takes his leave and decides to find the magnificum on his own), but Will is also forced to decide what he needs, to whom he is bound, and the lengths to which he will go to save the doctor. Will is given a chance at normalcy here, given the opportunity to become a regular boy - that is, one that does not associate the color red with the crimson of freshly spilled blood - as once again we meet the irascible Miss Lillian Bates when Will is taken in by her wealthy Upper West Side family. But, as they say, the bell cannot be unrung, and Will is a boy that has seen and done far too much to be able to ever really be "normal" again. His place is with the Monstrumologist, and in this book Will finally gets a chance to make that choice, instead of passively accepting it. As snarled and complicated as their connection is, the bond between the apprentice and his master is, if nothing else, powerful. Will crosses many lines in this book, too, and I am honestly frightened by Will's thoughts and rationalizations. What kind of man is Will Henry, the aged narrator recalling his past in these folios? What kind of man can grow from a boy that has seen so much horror and done so many terrible things? For the first time in the series, I find myself frightened - truly frightened - for the lost innocence of young Will, and I have no idea how the next book will turn out. I think Warthrop is just as frightened for his ward, too.
While this is predominantly a character-driven book, it also features the most fearsome of any monster we have seen to date in the series. More gory and fearsome than the first two books, The Isle of Blood features the most frightening of infections that could wipe out the human race with a mere touch; a monster that is as old as the stars and just as mysterious. I won't spoil anything, but this monster, the magnificum, is the most terrible and awesome of all monsters. I loved the way Mr. Yancey handles this particular terror, which resonates in the book's powerful, deafening climax. While the characterizations and plotting are superb, per usual, my only criticism of this book is that it tends towards self-indulgence at times and reads a tad overlong in some parts. I love the poetic turns of phrases and allegories used by Will throughout (something new and unique to this third novel), but he tends to internalize and repeat the same metaphors on and on, which begins to feel tiresome and somewhat forced.*
That minor criticism aside, this is a harrowing, nightmare of a book, beautiful in its cruelty and coldness. I loved it, moreso than the first two books in the series, and it is in the running for one of my favorite books of the year. I just don't know if it's the kind of book I'd want to read again because it is that incredibly draining. I mean this in the best way. If you have not read Mr. Yancey's Monstrumologist series yet, you must. This is one of the most complex horror novels that I have ever read, adult or young adult. And I am so glad we will be getting one more adventure with Will Henry and Pellinore Warthrop.
----- *I should note that The Isle of Blood is the longest of the three books and I've noticed that my digital ARC has almost 100 more pages than the final book does, so perhaps this is something that has been changed in the final edit stage....more
Princess Heir Raisa ana‘Marianna has been forced to flee her home in the Fells to escape a forced marriage by the powerful Bayar wizard line. She’s been kidnapped, tricked, betrayed, and yet she has somehow survived, thanks to her sharp wits, her hard earned fighting and riding skill, and by the grace of those loyal to her and the Gray Wolf line. Just when Raisa thinks she’s found a brief respite and happiness at Oden’s Ford, masquerading as servant and tutor Rebecca Morley, she’s discovered by the Bayars and is forced to strike a bargain, promising to marry Micah Bayar (the same wizard from whom she fled the Fells) in return for the safety of her friends and kin. When Raisa manages to escape her captors, she finds herself in an even more dire situation – alone, friendless and guardless, the Princess Heir must find a way back to safety – but with the wizards still on her trail and assassins at every turn, Raisa’s future looks incredibly bleak.
Back at the Academy, streetlord-cum-wizard Han “Cuffs” Allister despairs the loss of his tutor, friend, and beloved, Rebecca. Thinking he and the friction he has with the Bayars is the reason they have kidnapped her (for why else would they care about a mere lower class serving girl?), Han leaves Oden’s Ford and searches for any trace of her whereabouts. When he has all but given up, Han finds Rebecca – mortally injured and near death in the bitter cold of the Spirit Mountains. Han manages to save her life using his magic, nearly killing himself in the process, but when he awakes he finds his world turned akimbo: Rebecca Morely is none other than Princess Raisa. Bitterly betrayed, Han finds himself enmeshed in a political power struggle for control of the Fells – and as hurt and angry as he is, he cannot bring himself to leave Raisa.
The Gray Wolf Line has never been more at risk with Raisa’s path to power blocked by the Bayars and Wizarding Council, who scheme to put Raisa’s younger more malleable sister Mellory on the throne instead. With tensions mounting between even those who support Raisa’s claim, her ascension to the throne and the future of the queendom balances on a razor’s edge. And while no one, save Raisa and her oldest friend (and captain of her guard) Amon, seem to trust Han, both the Princess Heir and the former streetlord know just how much is at stake.
The penultimate book in the Seven Realms series, The Gray Wolf Throne, as one might expect, turns up the action. Actually, that’s an understatement. The Gray Wolf Throne raises the stakes of the series and turns the heat up a hundredfold from the prior two books. And, all I can say is, yes. Finally, the series hits its stride and becomes everything it hinted that it might become in earlier installments. Finally Han and Raisa are back together (for better or for worse), and they both know exactly who they each are – and must deal with that knowledge. Finally, Raisa is forced out of running and into action, becoming the Queen she was born to be. Finally.
And, oh sweet queens of the Gray Wolf Line, how I loved this book.
The overall series arc comes to a critical point in this third book, as Raisa must find a way to secure her throne lest it pass to her younger, innocent (or is she?) sister. There is much politicking in this novel, as Raisa struggles with the Wizard Council that clearly wants her dead, assassination attempts from an unknown source, an army that may or may not be loyal to the queens of the line, and the Demonai Clans with their own sets of prejudices and fears (despite their loyalty to Raisa). All of these complications are nuanced and carefully considered by the new monarch, and finally we see not only how tenacious Raisa is as a character, but her dedication to her family, throne, and the Fells, too.
It was a great day. It was a terrible day. Raisa had never felt braver. She had never been more frightened. She had never been lonelier. She had never felt more loved. And now she was on her way home.
To me, The Gray Wolf Throne is Raisa’s book – and she has come such a long way from the slightly spoiled, petulant princess of The Demon King. This kind of gradual yet dramatic growth over the course of a series is one of my favorite things to read, and Raisa’s metamorphosis into Queen is breathtaking, as she shoulders the responsibility to protect the Gray Wolf Throne at any cost – even at the cost of her own happiness.
It’s not just Raisa that grows and changes, though, for all of the familiar characters we have known since book 1 are shifting, too. Han remains as devastatingly cunning and charming as ever, but even though he believed that he lost everything there was to lose with the murder of his mother and sister, Han learns that there’s always more that can be taken from him. This time around, he has Raisa – whom he is furious with and betrayed by – and he vows to be more careful with the Queen he cannot help but love. So much stands between Raisa and Han, though, and if you’re looking for a classic, easy romance here you will be disappointed, for as the two undoubtedly feel, even love, each other, their being together like Hanalea and the Demon King of old, could break the world. I did love that in this book, Amon and Han have come to an understanding and friendship (finally!), and Amon, like his father before him, has accepted his role and duty as Captain of the Queen’s Guard. Dancer, the copperhead and wizard, also has his own huge revelation in this book, and struggles with prejudice from both the Clans and the Wizards. The Demonai are as abrasive and persistent as ever, with Reid Nightwalker bent on winning Raisa’s hand for the Clans. AND, of course, there’s the ever present danger of Micah Bayar – who is one of my favorite characters in the whole series, because of his uncertain motives. For all his political maneuvering, he actually seems to care for Raisa in his own way, and there’s something so…Jamie Lannister about him, especially as the series progresses.
The Gray Wolf Throne finishes on a high note for the new Queen, but also with a foreboding message for the final book in the series. There are still a number of loose ends and obstacles for Raisa and Han to face, and I cannot wait for the next volume. As it stands, The Gray Wolf Throne is absolutely recommended, and one of my favorite reads of the year. If you haven’t read this series yet, you need to start now. ...more
In a world ravaged by human failings of greed, ignorance, lies, cowardice, and needless aggression, a new society has emerged. From the brink of apocalypse, humanity has reorganized itself in a future version of Chicago, split into five factions that uphold and live by a single core value. Those that believed the world failed because of malicious, selfish greed formed the faction of Abnegation; sworn to remain selfless and serve the needs of others. Those that believed the collapse was due to ignorance pledged themselves to the Erudite tract, always thirsting for knowledge. Those who felt that human duplicity and lies were the cause of the world’s failings assumed the banner of Candor, pledging to always speak their minds and the truth. Those who felt aggression and power-hunger were the root of society’s collapse became the members of Amity, taking the mantle of peace at all costs. And finally, those who felt that the root of all their problems stemmed from plain cowardice flung themselves into the tribe of the Dauntless, the faction of the courageous and strong.
Born into a Abnegation family, Beatrice has lived her life trying to uphold the ideals of her parents. Only allowed to look in the mirror once a year, outfitted in the plainest, drab clothing, Beatrice has strives to be as kind as her mother, as calm as her older brother, and as good a civil servant as her father. But Beatrice has always known that she’s different, and she doesn’t belong in Abnegation. Wistfully observing the daredevil chaos of the Dauntless-born kids as they crow and leap from running trains on the way to school, Beatrice struggles with her emotions because, at sixteen years old, her aptitude test and choosing day have arrived. Beatrice’s test results, however, are inconclusive. It turns out that she is one of a very rare subset of the population: a Divergent. Her tests show that she does not fall neatly into one of the preset factions, but displays traits dominant in the Erudite, Abnegation, and Dauntless clans. When her time to choose arrives, she follows her heart and chooses to be selfish but brave, abandoning her family and choosing Dauntless. While switching clans in itself takes fearlessness, Beatrice soon learns that if she wants to be initiated into the faction, it will take much more than a simple choice. With only ten spots available and more than double that number of hopefuls, Beatrice struggles to make her way in a ruthless initiation trial and discovers not only what she’s truly made of, but what it truly means to be a Divergent.
Divergent is Veronica Roth’s debut novel, and the latest entry in a long string of dystopian hopefuls, attempting to cash in on the blockbuster success of The Trilogy That Must Not Be Named. The outbreak of so-called dystopias has been both a blessing and a curse for the avid fan – a blessing, because as one of the coolest subgenres around, an uptick in popularity means more people are getting introduced to the rockin’ world of dystopian fiction; a curse, because in the wake of said blockbuster trilogy, a whole lotta crap is getting churned out (making it harder for the gems to be found amongst the rabble). Having been burned by a number of wishy-washy YA titles masquerading as dystopias, my expectations for Divergent were, understandably, low. Ultimately, Divergent took me by surprise, because once I was able to suspend disbelief with regards to the societal structure, I found myself truly enjoying this engrossing, action-filled novel.
The first thing that bears mentioning is the inherent simplicity and implausibility with regards to the structure of Divergent‘s world. The entire system, predicated on five character traits, seems like a flimsy, silly contrivance – how could any one person, with their myriad emotions and experiences, be reduced to a single quality to abide by for the rest of their lives? Chosen at the age of sixteen, no less? Divergent‘s Chicago seems like a doomed social experiment concocted by some half-baked new age loonies. At the same time, Divergent also falters in its early chapters by the initial similarities to Lois Lowry’s classic, seminal dystopian novel, The Giver. Children are given aptitude tests and are assigned jobs in a vital ceremony each year – though in Divergent the children are sixteen, as opposed to The Giver‘s twelve. Also like The Giver, Divergent features a protagonist that does not fit into the clear-cut professions delineated by their respective societies. These criticisms made, once “Tris” (Beatrice’s Dauntless name) begins her initiation trials, it becomes easier to overlook some of the more dubious elements of the novel and simply become engrossed in what is, ultimately, a fantastic story. With her first leap from the rooftop above the Dauntless lair, Divergent began to work its magic on my skeptical brain. And I liked it, people. I liked it a lot.
Yes, a few of the things about the YA paranormal “dystopian” genre that generally piss me off are present here (i.e. the tepid insta-romance, the tendency for everyone to OMG LOVE AND WANT TO PROTECT! the little pretty protagonist, Tris). BUT! These annoyances are saved by an unconventional character choice, because Tris is not your usual Mary Sue. She’s selfish. She’s manipulative. She’s vindictive as hell – and I LOVED that about this book. I mean, at one point, when a character asks for her forgiveness, she coldly refuses. Really coldly. I mean, holy masked avenger, Batman. It’s brutal, but refreshing (since these heroines are so often little goody-two-shoes that forgive even the most heinous acts). I also loved that Tris gets seriously beat up, and while she does toughen up and become a better fighter, she never becomes an amazing badass-sharpshooting-ninja warrior, and that’s cool. I loved the believable tension between herself and her fellow initiates, the discrimination she feels as a “Stiff” (Abnegation-born), her anger with her family, and, most of all, how tough she has to become to survive and truly be dauntless and a divergent.
On that same note, I also loved how the book matched its protagonist in ruthlessness. Ms. Roth isn’t afraid to kill people and that’s one of my biggest problem with many current YA “dystopias” – this lack of teeth. Though this is Veronica Roth’s first novel, this young author has the pacing thing down pat – the tests that a Dauntless faces are violent, harrowing, and delightfully sadistic. The pacing and action-crammed nature of this book is highly reminiscent of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but much better thought out, and I daresay better written. In fact, I read Divergent – all 500 pages of it – in a single sitting, over the course of approximately 3 hours. It’s that kind of addictive, can’t-put-it-down book.
While there’s no doubt that Divergent is a quick, immersive read, at the same time, the very potato-chip nature of the book is also telling. Though entertaining, this book does not provoke, incite, or demand a closer look at society – unlike, say The Giver, or Ship Breaker, or Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books. It is fun, but, ultimately falls short in the great dystopian test – because all the great ones share a distorted critique of reality. In this respect, Divergent doesn’t quite cut it. The actual story-proper, involving the true nature of divergents and the danger they pose to this particular society, doesn’t really kick off until the book’s final act. Still, Divergent is far and away the best dystopian YA title I’ve read this year, and I cannot wait for more. Though it’s not quite top 10 material, it’s absolutely one of my notable reads of 2011, so far. ...more
Life in the Fallout Alley Youth Zone – or The FAYZ – is not easy for the teens and children trapped inside, cut off from the outside world and encased in a tiny, psychically-barricaded bubble. In the eight months of the FAYZ’s existence, the children of Perdido Beach have survived the initial disappearance of adults, the terrifying Darkness, gnawing hunger, sickness, and each other – but the worst is yet to come. With the gaiaphage trapped and buried in a sealed mine, Caine and Diana exiled to an island, and the Drake/Brittney creature imprisoned and under guard, things seem like they should be getting better for Sam, Astrid and the rest of the Perdido crew. But…this is the FAYZ after all, and nothing is ever quite so simple. Sam and Astrid’s relationship is on the rocks. Fresh water is running out. A fatal superflu blows its way through the population, leaving broken, dead children in its wake. A scourge of parasitic insects begin to worm their way into the population, too, literally eating their human hosts from the inside out – and like the flu, the parasites are immune to the powers of the “freaks” in Perdido Beach. And, most terrifyingly of all, while Little Pete lies trapped in a coma, the Darkness, the being called the gaiaphage stirs, beckoning its servants to heed its call.
Plague, the fourth of the GONE books is easily the darkest entry in the series to date – and not just in terms of gore (although it is rather gory with it’s horrific parasites and immortal, un-killable enemies that are able to reassemble themselves through even the most gruesome decapitations). While the series began with a more simplistic, polarized view of morality (which actually fits in very well with the innocence of the protagonists at that point in the storyarc), Plague is unflinchingly, unyieldingly brutal, forcing its characters to not only compromise their core beliefs, but to confront to some very nasty truths about themselves. Not only does Sam have to grapple with his hero complex and ineffectual leadership skills, but Astrid must confront the set of morals and religion to which she clings so desperately; Diana throws her own final ultimatum to Caine; Edilio searches for the real reason why he’s appointed leader; Lana fights with her brush with Darkness and the attentions of a newcomer to the beach; Brittney and Drake lock in an unending, unendurable battle between each other, trapped in the same flesh, fighting for consciousness. I’m also happy to see that in the midst of the death and brutality, Mr. Grant doesn’t shy away from the more…hormonal aspects of teenage life in a world without parents or rules. These teens don’t only have superpowers and weaponry, but they also drink, and screw, and grapple with emotions and relationships and gossip. That’s cool. I like that.
Of course, the action, danger, blood, and mystery is the biggest draw to this series (at least it is for me) – and in this respect, Plague delivers in spades. This newest installment reminded me of Lost, cross pollinated with John Carpenter/David Cronenberg, and related in the tradition of Stephen King. There’s the same huge, multi-perspective cast and multiple storylines (ultimately converging in a morass of action and violence) and the same eerie unsettling suspense – just what is going on in Perdido Beach? What exactly is the Darkness, or Gaiaphage, and why are these new indestructible creatures appearing? Like Lost, each new book in this series is a new layer; a previously unseen level to what is turning out to be an incredibly complex and terrifying story. And, I’m happy to say that unlike Lost, Plague actually does begin to answer some of the questions that have been piling up since the first book. Granted, the explanations probably aren’t going to fly with everyone – but for tried and true genre fans that know their King (et al), I have no doubts that you folks will take just as much glee in the book’s revelations as I did.
I loved the new introductions in this book and the brutality, as well as the expansion of the Perdido Beach camp to possible new locations.1 The only disappointments I have with the book is with my impatience for more content with less filler. Not that Plague is a placeholder novel, but I want to see the overall storyarc continue to progress, and I want all our FAYZies to have an endgame in sight that doesn’t go the way of the aforementioned Lost, with answers being invented piecemeal or character development traded for pregnancy storylines and melodrama. I’m not saying Plague did any of these things – but the cynic (and Lost fan in me) has to be wary of these possibilities. These fears stated, I’m pretty sure Michael Grant won’t let fans down – because Plague was freaking awesome. I cannot wait for Fear, due out in 2012....more
Originally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2011/07/b... For twenty-six year old army veteran Bryn Davis, the first day at aOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers: http://thebooksmugglers.com/2011/07/b... For twenty-six year old army veteran Bryn Davis, the first day at a new job in a new career is a frightening but exciting prospect. Armed with the best outfit she can afford and a box of freshly minted business cards, Bryn starts her first day as Funeral Director at Fairview Mortuary with the aim to impress her new boss, Mr. Fairview, with her personability and professionalism. Unfortunately for Bryn, things quickly go from bad to worse when one of her first consultations ends with a grieving teenage daughter killing herself in the mortuary bathroom. Then, after the mess is cleaned up and reports are filed with the police, Bryn finds herself in the middle of a holdup when another of her consultation clients for the day returns with a gun. To add to that misery, Bryn ends up inadvertently stumbling across Fairview’s dirty, if lucrative, side business: drugs. Not just any drug, but a black market designer serum called Returné – which can bring the recently dead back to life, and keep them young, alive, and virtually invincible so long as they keep receiving regular daily doses.
Naturally, Fairview is not pleased with Bryn’s meddling and her hell of a first day comes to an even worse end: Bryn is murdered in cold blood.
Of course, what kind of book would Working Stiff be if our intrepid heroine died and never returned after the first couple of chapters? In short measure Bryn finds herself born again, revived by the very drug whose discovery led to her own death. Brought back to life by a pair of suits, Bryn finds herself automatically enrolled in pharmaceutical juggernaut Pharmadene’s ultimate employee loyalty program – she’s informed by her new cohorts Joe Fideli and Patrick McCallister that she represents an investment for the company, and one that’s expected to pay out very soon. In return for daily doses of Returné – the only thing keeping Bryne from decomposing and dying a slow, painful death – Bryn has to take over her old boss’s black market business to help the company find Fairview’s old supplier. Things are never as simple or straightforward as they seem, especially with a drug with as much potential for power as Returné, and soon Bryn finds herself mired in a corporate espionage plot with terrible, far-ranging consequences.
There are a few things I have come to expect from every new book from Rachel Caine, namely awesome worldbuilding, a tightly written plot rife with high-stakes action, and a strong and wholly winsome heroine. I am thrilled to report that true to form, all of these elements are present in Working Stiff, resulting in one hell of a first novel in what looks to be a new must-buy Urban Fantasy series. From a worldbuilding and plotting perspective, Working Stiff completely rocks. The story itself is as high-action and high-stakes as the Weather Warden books, though on a much more secretive and corporate level. There are twists and turns, and a significant amount of uncertainty when it comes to characters that Bryn can trust, and all these elements are handled effortlessly by Ms. Caine.
Premise-wise, I loved the concept of Returné and the lengths that a company like Pharmadene would go to in order to keep it proprietary, even to the point where the company would kill its own employees only to revive them (it’s on hell of a way to guarantee employee loyalty, and also brings a fun double meaning to the notion of “corporate zombie” – or the titular “working stiff”). And it’s not just the concept of a drug that can bring someone back from the dead that impressed me, but the idea that Returné is something that needs to be taken on a daily basis in order for the revived to continue living. With this unique little twist thrown in the mix, there’s a very real and present danger over Bryn’s head from the onset of the book as she needs the drug every day, without fail, in order to stop decomposition. Hell, she can’t even really DIE thanks to the serum (even a shot to the head or the shattering of all her bones wouldn’t stop the nanites in the injection from repairing her body). Short of complete dismemberment, Bryn is basically invincible so long as she gets her shots on time – but this also means that without a constant source of Returné, she’s going to survive and be conscious for her body falling apart around her. Needless to say, it’s a terrifying thought for Bryn, and it makes her decisions about what is almost certainly a short future lifespan even more important.
From a character perspective, Bryn is everything anyone could ask for in a series heroine. Smart, earnest, and capable of making the tough moral decisions when she has to, Bryn is a new kind of badass (and, if you’re a Caine fan like myself, thankfully remarkably different from Jo Baldwin or Cassiel). Even though Bryn has been in the army and is trained in weaponry and hand-to-hand combat, she’s not some automatic killer/ninja badass, which immediately sets her apart from the slew of Urban Fantasy heroines on the market. No, Bryn has no special abilities or superpowers beyond the ability to painfully heal after being beaten or shot, granted to her by the nanites in her bloodstream. She needs help, she gets into a lot of trouble, but Bryn also steps up when she needs to. In this reader’s humble opinion, Bryn is an incredibly real, believable young woman, and a heroine worth rooting for.
Beyond Bryn, there’s also a bevy of secondary characters that are also fully developed and wonderfully realized. Patrick, the love interest, is a strong hero with ambiguous loyalties and a shady past that is revealed gradually throughout the book – complete with a good amount of sexual tension (this is UF after all). Joe, Bryn’s other cohort, is hired muscle but a surprisingly caring family man with more going on beneath the surface. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg as there are secret allies, sadistic and power-crazed villains, corporate zombies and double-agents all thrown into the mix.
In short, I loved this book – Working Stiff is an awesome start to a fantastic new series. Rachel Caine has done it again, and I cannot wait for next August....more
Catherine Bell Hassi Barahal has been through an incredibly trying few weeks. Willingly sacrificed by her AunOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Catherine Bell Hassi Barahal has been through an incredibly trying few weeks. Willingly sacrificed by her Aunt and Uncle in order to protect their daughter, Beatrice, Cat has been whisked from her home and bound into an unbreakable marriage to haughty, powerful cold mage Andevai Diarisso Haranwy, based on a prophecy and a deal struck by the Hassi Barahals and the cold mage houses. The only problem is that Cat is not truly a Hassi Barahal by blood, and the cold mages are horrified to have been duped into a magically binding marriage to the wrong girl. The only way to dissolve the marriage is death, and Cat – betrayed, sacrificed, and utterly alone – flees for her life, with her cold mage husband in pursuit.
After the events of Cold Magic, Cat finds herself reunited with her beloved cousin Bee (who had no idea of her parents’ duplicity) but still on the run – from the mage houses that will kill Cat and force Bee into marriage; from the army that wants to keep the girls under their thumb; from warlord Camjiata, the man with the sweeping ambition to unite a disparate Europa under his reign; and, most importantly, from Cat’s husband Andevai, for whom Cat has undeniable feelings (however inconvenient or unwanted). Cat’s flight takes her from the cold landscape of western Europe to the spirit world where she finally learns the truth of her parentage and, bound once again by a cruel magic, is set on a dangerous, terrifying task on the distant shores of the dreaded Salt Island and the Caribbean-like local of the Taino Kingdom. It is here that Cat comes to terms with her identity, her destiny and her heart. To say that I had high expectations for Cold Fire is a gross understatement – because, fellow readers, try as I might to put a damper on my expectations and outlandish hopes, I guess I’m a sucker at heart and I had huge pie-in-the-sky hopes for Cold Fire. And wouldn’t ya know it? Kate Elliott freakin’ delivers. I loved Cold Fire. Intensely. Allow me to enumerate the ways:
1. The plotting is sprawling, complex, and still manages to move along at a fast and furious pace. For a 600+ page book, this is no small feat. Picking up immediately where Cold Magic leaves off, Kate Elliott ruthlessly plunges readers back into the world of Adurnam, where Cat and Bee are on the run from mages and armies alike. I’ll admit, it took a little while to jog my memory and get back into the story, but I appreciated the decided lack of recap.1
There’s a lot of running in this book, especially in those early chapters, but the onslaught keeps a reader on her toes and engaged with the crazy huge scope of politicking and action that is occurring in this strange new world. There’s a shifting focus from the power of the cold mages in this second novel, as we learn more about the spirit world (and Cat’s sire), as well as fire mages that prosper in the tropics to the south and west. There’s the omnipresent threat of Camjiata as he tries to curry favor and military support from the Taino before he makes his assault on Europa – and his destiny is inextricably linked to Bee’s and, more frighteningly, to Cat’s. There’s the introduction to Salt Island and the poor souls afflicted by the “teeth” sickness, gone mad and ravenous and highly infectious. There’s the introduction of an entirely new culture and belief system, which brings me to…
1a. The worldbuilding is badass. As an addendum to the above reason for Cold Fire love, the realm of the Taino is a refreshing change from the cold familiarity of western Europa. Ms. Elliott’s is a world similar to our own, but with a Jacqueline Carey-esque spin – while core beliefs and geography may be similar, there are a number of creative reimaginings of myths and culture that characterize the setting of the Spiritwalker trilogy. The Caribbean people of Taino do speak with a Creole type of patois (e.g. “Yee a real maku, ja? New come to the Antilles?” and “Not a bit like dat, Cat’reen”) which is bound to grate for some readers, but I personally felt the attention to detail, the lack of haughty Victorian-esque “colonization” mentality, and the humanization granted to each of these characters was handled respectfully and tastefully.
2. The characters are so deliciously genuine, complete with strengths and flaws, as well as motivations and actions that make sense. I cannot stress the importance of this particular factor. Cat makes her fair share of missteps and bonehead decisions – but not because she’s blithely ignorant or stupid, and not in any lame attempt to create melodrama to propel the plot along. Rather, Cat’s faults are in perfect keeping with her character (and as first person narrator, she’s also not the most reliable person) – she’s slow to trust anyone and fiercely protective of those she loves. I continue to be impressed by Cat’s quiet strength and pigheadedness, as well as with her determination to save those she loves by any means necessary. Cat discovers a lot about herself and her destiny in this book, and I loved seeing her grow and learn to open up to others. Especially where the next point is concerned…
3. The romance is of central importance without being overpowering (or hijacking the plot), and is heart-warming without being cheesy. I may not be the most romantic person, but I love it when a romance is executed perfectly – without excessive cheese, without inappropriate haste, and by playing effectively with tropes that are not cringeworthy. Such is the relationship between Andevai and Cat. Yes, theirs is a classic romantic foible: falling in love after being married. But when it’s done well? Hot damn is it effective – and Ms. Elliott weilds the trope with expert skill. I love that there is no guarantee of happy endings with this pair, either – you don’t know if they’ll be able to get their shit together and look past the past. I won’t spoil you, and I won’t tell you if they do end up together, for any modicum of happiness. The tension, the misunderstanding, and the angst is all part of the appeal in this middle novel, and I loved every second of it.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure if Cold Fire surpasses Cold Magic – but the two are on equally awesome footing. I loved this book, and it earns a spot on my top 10 favorites of the year. I cannot wait for Cold Steel! ...more
Trei was fourteen the first time he saw the Floating Islands. He had made the whole long voyage south from Rounn in a haze of loss and misery, not really noticing the harbors in which the ship sometimes anchored or the sea between. But here, where both sea and sky lay pearl-gray in the dawn, the wonder of the Floating Islands broke at last into that haze.
After losing his mother, father and elder sister in the devastating volcanic eruption that leveled his hometown of Rounn, Trei has been in a fog of despair. Turned away by his Tolounn dwelling Uncle and Aunt, Trei has no other choice but to make his way to his mother’s family in the mythic Floating Islands to the south. From his first glimpse of the islands, emerging like jewels in the mist-shrouded sky, Trei instantly feels in awe at his new home – and from his first glimpse of the mysterious flying men, the kajuraihi, Trei knows that his destiny lies in the winds and sky. When he arrives at his Uncle’s home, Trei finds himself warmly embraced by his southern family, although his younger cousin, the headstrong Araenè is initially resentful of his presence, disturbing her privacy and routine at home. For Araenè is no docile Island girl, ready to do her part and become a submissive wife; instead, Araenè dresses up as a boy and sneaks out of her home to explore the city and attends lectures from famous cooks to hone her own skills, all the while lamenting the fact that she was not born a boy and can never use her talents for anything other than homemaking.
When Trei wins his audition to become one of the kajuraihi and passes the initiation, and Araenè finds herself drawn to the hidden school of mages – only a select few mages are drawn each generation – it becomes clear that for both Trei and Araenè, the future holds unexpected, dramatic twists. The fates of these two cousins will intertwine, resulting in heartache and tragedy, and courage and triumph.
The Floating Islands is Rachel Neumeier’s second novel for young adults, and in this humble reviewer’s opinion, a completely winsome, traditional fantasy novel, with adventure and intrigue in spades. The first striking thing about the book is its unique vista setting; for once, the cover gets the feel and tone of the novel almost perfectly. The titled islands are these gorgeous, magical bodies, floating above the sea, proudly independent of the nations surrounding them by virtue of the same dragon magic that the kajuraihi use to fly. Beyond creating a unique airborne landscape and atmospheric setting for the book, the actual islands play a vital role in the plot, and also shape the characterizations of the book’s dual protagonists. One of the biggest (but most important) challenges with creating a new world in fantasy is managing to imbue a landscape with enough influence to create a unique culture, psyche, and flavor for its characters – and in this, Ms. Neumeier excels. Easily, the southern floating islands with their dragons, flying men, mages, and potent mix of spices is one of my favorite YA fantasy settings in recent memory.
But enough of setting and atmosphere – what of the story and the characters? In terms of character, Rachel Neumeier manages to do the dual protagonist thing with alternating storylines, but told in a single third person (limited omniscient) voice, which is awesome and effective. Although I found myself a little less tolerant of Araenè (at least, initially), both protagonists are worthy heroes with their own sizable obstacles to overcome. Trei’s struggles, with his confused sense of loyalty and patriotism as both a child of Tolounn and a newly-made kajuraihi, is the defining story of the novel, in my opinion. While Araenè’s struggles with gender roles and her inadvertent secret keeping certainly are fascinating and play a vital role in the development of the story, and certainly Araenè is a spirited and enjoyable young heroine, to me, this is Trei’s story. As he tries to prove himself to his peers and teachers, as a true islander and an asset, he also feels undeniable twinges of regret – for although his adopted home is this strange new place in the sky, he was born of Tolounn. Also, he struggles with his own grief with the loss of his family – and the accusations that Trei may be a spy for Tolounn, in the face of all that he has suffered, makes Trei an instantly sympathetic and powerful character. In contrast, Araenè’s struggles are no less genuine, but a bit more…familiar. Although both characters use common fantasy tropes (the orphaned, powerful child; the girl warrior that masquerades as a boy to gain denied power), they are used skillfully enough, and with the imaginative scope of setting and plotting, this traditionalism is not so much an annoyance as it is a familiar and comfortable friend. My only quibble with character lay with the inner workings of these dual protagonists, as both felt a little too adult in their thought processes and narrative voices. Granted, these are two young adults that have gone through a whole lot over the course of the book, so perhaps this is warranted.
From a storytelling perspective, Ms. Neumeier truly shines – just as in her adult work, the world and societies that the author has created with The Floating Islands is truly remarkable stuff. I loved the intricate differences in politics and technology between the Islands and the militant Tolounnese, just as I loved the role of the mages, the dragon-men and their different types of magic within this world. The story itself is a coming of age tale, a war story, and – above all else – an adventure. For fear of spoilers, I won’t say too much about the story, other than even though a number of familiar plot fixtures abound, Ms. Neumeier manages to imbue her story with enough life and originality to make it a truly memorable new entry in the YA fantasy arena. Absolutely recommended for young readers, old readers, and those that want an excapist, nostalgic traditional fantasy....more
From the woods and caves of Alba, Moirin mac Fainche has traveled long and far – to the decadent splendor of Terre d’Ange, the snow-capped mountains of distant Ch’in, the desert plains of the Tartars, the unyielding landscape of the Vralia, and the southern reaches of Bhaktipur & Bhodistan. After defeating the spider queen and her twisted court, Moirin and her husband Bao are reuinted at last, but their peace is shortlived; the couple must return to Terre d’Ange when they learn that Moirin’s friend, companion, and beloved Queen Jehane has died in childbirth. They return to a royal court torn by King Daniel’s grief – devastated over the death of his second wife, the King has given up acting as the head of state. In the absence of his son, the crown prince Thierry on a voyage to the far off land of Terra Nova across the sea, Daniel has appointed his cousin, Rogier Courcel, the Duc de Barthelme, as regent to handle daily affairs and rule in his name. Even worse, King Daniel cannot bear the sight or presence of his three year-old daughter, Desirée, for her uncanny resemblance to his lost wife. Through his mourning, however, the King welcomes Moirin and her new husband Bao back to court warmly, and because of her love for the late Jehanne, he appoints Moirin as his daughter’s oath-sworn protector. Together, Moirin and Bao strive to make young Desirée feel loved and valued despite her lost mother and absent father and brother, and Moirin vows to keep her young charge safe.
But while there is no one better suited for the job, Moirin’s new position causes a shockwave in court politics – as popular opinion decries that a half-breed D’Angeline who worships a Bear Goddess (and has a Ch’in husband, no less) should not bear so high a rank – and it becomes clear that regent Duc Rogier’s ambitions cannot be contained to ruling behind the figurehead of King Daniel for long. When Prince Thierry’s ship returns from its long voyage, it comes bearing ill-tidings. The Dauphin has been lost in the foreign jungles and is presumed dead – and the news is the killing blow to King Daniel’s beleaguered spirits. Suddenly, Desirée is the sole heir to the throne and Moirin’s path has never been more difficult. The newly crowned interim king begin his machinations to seize power from the young Dauphine, and Moirin is helpless to stop him. Her only hope – prompted by the steady glow of her diadh-anam and a vision from the late Queen Jehanne – is to attempt the impossible. Together, she and Bao will leave Terre d’Ange and journey across leagues to the wilds of Terra Nova in a desperate gambit to find Prince Thierry and bring him home. But things in the new world are more dangerous than Moirin could have ever dreamed – for another face from her past waits for her. Raphael de Mereliot’s madness and ambition not been slaked, and Moirin must atone for her past folly, and finally complete her gods-given destiny.
The final book in Moirin’s adventures, Naamah’s Blessing is a near pitch-perfect finale to a rare, truly fantastic series. In the words of Ms. Carey, the gods use their chosen hard, and truer words cannot apply to Moirin and Bao. Encompassing courtly politics and intrigue in Terre D’Ange and a harrowing trek through the uncharted wilds of the new world, Naamah’s Blessing is yet another stunning saga. Please excuse me while I fangirl out about worldbuilding for a second (I promise, I will get down to the other facets of this novel). Jacqueline Carey is known for her ability to re-envision history with a fantastical spin, which she has covered beautifully in prior books set in this same universe. Before Moirin’s story arc, however, this interpretation has been largely rooted in Terre d’Ange (France) and other familiar western European locales, traditions, and religions. In this trilogy, however, Carey explores the much broader range of human history and geography, from China, Mongolia and India, to finally breaking ground in the New World in this last book. This is one of the things I adore about this series, and particularly this story arc, as we are introduced to pantheons beyond the standard white European fare. In Naamah’s Blessing, the indigenous people of the Americas are the focal point of the book, with Mayan, Aztec, even Incan overtones. These characters and people aren’t just treated as “savages” nor are they discredited as mere window dressing for the story – as with all of Ms. Carey’s books, the setting, the mores and the belief systems of these cultures play a pivotal, central role in the novel. Instead of painting the Nahuatl, Quechua, and other tribes as bloodthirsty pagans, lesser than the D’Angelines, they are shown as equals, their beliefs, though frightening to Moirin, explained in depth and treated with respect. Similarly, there is a running theme of race, ethnicity, and heritage that is addressed in this book, through the treatment not only of Moirin (scorned as a mixed-breed, though fully Caucasian), her Ch’in husband Bao (frequently called a “boy” and consistently referred to as “strange” by D’Angeline characters throughout), but also in the blatant racism of the Aragonian traders that have established themselves in Terra Nova regarding the indigenous population. I loved that Ms. Carey explores these different reactions and directly addresses these topics in Naamah’s Blessing.
But enough of worldbuilding! What of the story itself, or the characters, or the conclusion to Moirin’s turbulent, continents-spanning saga, you ask? Rest assured, fellow Naamah fans, the conclusion to Moirin’s story is handled with the deftness, emotional poignancy and depth that is Jacqueline Carey’s trademark. Moirin has grown up so much over these three novels, staying true to herself as she struggles to fulfill the destiny laid before her. Though Phedre will always be my favorite, Moirin’s quiet strength of character and her faith in her beliefs sets her apart as a truly admirable heroine. I love the relationship between Moirin and Bao, finally at peace after incredible strain, and though the two are from different worlds, the peace they find together is the stuff of great romance. There are numerous other characters, both familiar and new, each with their own motivations and layers, from the stone-willed warrior Temilotzin to the mad Raphael.
From a storytelling and continuity aspect, one thing I adore about this series in particular is the level of follow-through and accountability. Despite the fact that Moirin (and Phedre and Imriel before her) had a tendency to foreshadow in ominous tones, these premonitions are always carried through to their completion. In Moirin’s case, her role in the Circle of Solomon back when she was a younger, innocent girl enamored with Raphael de Mariliot comes around full circle in this last novel. For every action, a reaction; for every mistake, a consequence. Moirin’s path in Naamah’s Blessing is fraught with hardship, but she finally confronts her past and must set things right in this ultimate adventure.
And what an adventure it is. There are kings, and emperors, and sailors, giant snakes, storms, and a river of black ants to contend with in Naamah’s Blessing. Though the book is not without its faults – the early chapters in Terre d’Ange are a little slow and feel very quaint (there’s talk of wardrobe and parties, and that sort of court banality) and there is some degree of repetition with regards to certain phrases (always a pet peeve) – Naamah’s Blessing is a beautiful, fitting conclusion to another winning series from Jacqueline Carey. With Moirin’s adventures concluded, I can only hope that there is more in this universe coming, and soon....more
At least, it is for Fancy and Kit Cordelle, daughters of the infamous Bonesaw Killer who hacked up over a dozen victims in his home’s cellar before being caught red-handed and sent to prison. The Cordelle sisters keep to themselves, regarded as pariahs in their small hometown of Portero, which suits them just fine. The summer Fancy turns fifteen, however, she and her older sister Kit are forced to interact with others when they attend Juneteenth at Cherry Glade – a ritual for young Porterenes, as they are granted one wish. With her wish, Fancy is finally handed the opportunity to give in to her darkest urges and show everyone just how deep Cordelle blood runs. From squirrels and small animals, Fancy and Kit move on killing to humans, but only those bad men and women that truly deserve their wrath. With Fancy’s gift for opening doors and Kit’s charisma and bloodlust, the sisters soon find themselves the proprietors of a well-renowned business in Portero, even earning the respect and gratitude of their fellow Porterenes. But even as the sisters relish in their killings, they also begin to drift apart and grow up…
Holy moly. I went into this book expecting to be thoroughly engrossed and entertained based on my previous experience with Bleeding Violet, but I wasn’t expecting to come away from the book liking it even more than its predecessor. Slice of Cherry takes the twisted world of Portero and exposes an even darker side of its inhabitants through the eyes of sisters Fancy and Kit. I am quite comfortable in saying that this is what I felt was missing from Bleeding Violet. Slice of Cherry is earnestly macabre, with razor-sharp characterizations in a sugar-sweet coat of moral ambiguity. This is what so-called paranormal or “edgy” YA should aspire to, because there is nothing mundane about this delectable novel from the very talented Ms. Reeves.
Portero is a strange place, where monsters lurk at night, corpses are mundane, and special doors can be opened to other worlds. As introduced in Bleeding Violet, Slice of Cherry expounds upon Portero’s uniqueness, as Fancy is able to create worlds of her own in order to keep herself and the ones she loves safe, or at least from meeting her father’s fate. While the world is familiar (and thoroughly awesome), the thing that truly sets apart Slice of Cherry is its characters. Fancy and Kit are what we “transies” would call sociopaths. Psychotic sociopaths. They suffer from Dexter Morgan syndrome, in that they feel compelled to kill in order to fill an emptiness within, and though they try to only kill those that deserve it (a wicked control freak slowly poisoning her younger sister, an abusive stepfather, a jealous and murder-scheming dancer), they don’t exactly have a sense of morality; they will kill anyone if it pleases them (but then again, this is Portero we are talking about and everyone is a little off-kilter and plays by their own set of rules). Fine, you say. There are a number of books about teenage sociopaths. What makes these two girls any different?
What defines Fancy and Kit is their relationship with each other and the outside world. These two characters are so bizarre, so twisted and removed from any normal semblance of rational human behavior, that their story is immediately believable and not at all cliched (at least, not in this reader’s opinion). There is a level of complete unreliability with Fancy as our protagonist, as she insists that she and her older sister Kit are “practically the same person” – when nothing could be further from the truth. While Kit is charming, loquacious, and the center of attention, Fancy is taciturn and silent, resenting everything and everyone. When Kit becomes more interested in men than her younger sister, their relationship is sorely tested because even though we readers are never force fed background information about what made Kit and Fancy the way they are, it’s clear that Fancy resists change of any kind (even to the point where she wears little girl dresses that cannot fit her changing body), and that she sees her father’s arrest, Madda’s overtime work, and Kit’s falling in love as abandonment. I loved this tension within Fancy’s narration, her frustration and inability to process the changes that occur within and without her. At the same time, Kit’s characterization begins as the dangerous, impulsive and irresponsible one, but over the course of the book it’s clear that Kit’s grip on reality is far more sturdy than Fancy’s. If you ask me, Fancy is the girl to be afraid of. Take this first scene, for example:
“I know you’re a good person. You didn’t let her kill me. I know you’re good. Please?”
Fancy looked him in his eyes until he stopped babbling and really focused on her, really saw her. When he was quiet she said:
“Daddy’s locked up, so we never see him. Madda had to start working twelve-hour shifts to support us, so we never see her, either. If Kit kills you, they’ll lock her up too, and then I won’t have anybody. That’s the only reason you’re alive. Because if I thought I could do it and not get busted, I’d kill you myself.”
Fancy looked away from the prowler’s horrified stare and finished threading the needle.
“I’m the Bonesaw Killer’s daughter,” she whispered, almost to herself. “Why would you ever think I was good?”
The relationship between sisters, especially sisters of a close age, is always fraught with hardship and tensions, even when you throw murderous tendencies and unbridled psychopathy to the mix. As Kit says to Fancy, it’s easy to show a boyfriend how much you love him, but showing a sister is much harder. Just as Bleeding Violet is a character-centric story, so too is Slice of Cherry. It is the coming of age of these two sisters, Fancy in particular, that makes this book so memorable.
That’s not to say the other elements are any less well-written! As always, Ms. Reeves’ prose is dreamlike, strange, and bewitching as she effortlessly tells a story about some rather gory and unsavory subjects in a deceptively blase manner. Be warned that Slice of Cherry is not for the faint of heart as there are numerous disturbing scenes. If you’re looking for an uncomplicated, black-and-white moral story, you’re probably not gonna like Fancy and Kit very much. If you’re looking for traditionalism, or a nicely packaged, formulaic romp, look elsewhere.
But, if you, like me, delight in the absurd and the grotesque; if you’ve ever felt like you just don’t quite adhere to the tastes of the norm; if you like complicated and darkness…well, you might wanna cut yourself off a Slice of Cherry....more
When the deadly "Friendly Flu" sweeps through Kaelyn's island home, the Canadian government immediately quaraOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
When the deadly "Friendly Flu" sweeps through Kaelyn's island home, the Canadian government immediately quarantines the isolated location, hoping to staunch the spread of the virus. On the island, things have been bad - Kaelyn has seen the death of many neighbors to the virus (she's barely survived the flu's effects herself) and her parents have succumbed not only to the virus but to the ensuing chaos on the island. After her microbiologist father's death, Kaelyn finds his secret work - a vaccine that could be the key to inoculating the human population against the virus. Armed with six vials of the test serum, Kaelyn decides to strike out to the mainland to seek help from any one that might be able to replicate her father's work... only to discover that the rest of the world is just as obliterated by the Friendly Flu's reach. With her friends, Kaelyn starts the long trek to Ottawa to find a scientist or government official that might be able to help - but as they travel further inland, the news of the vaccine spreads, and other groups will stop at nothing to claim it for their own.
The Lives We Lost is the second book in Megan Crewe's Fallen World trilogy, picking up almost immediately where The Way We Fall left off. Unlike the first book in the series, The Lives We Lost moves the book from the island and onto the mainland, and for the first time we really see just how far the Friendly Flu has propagated. Like Kaelyn and her friends, we are shocked and frightened at the scope of this epidemic (which is on the scale of the medieval bubonic plague - huge swaths of the population infected and dead, with no cure in sight). While the change of scenery means more action and higher stakes, unfortunately, The Lives We Lost is very much a middle book and doesn't quite live up to its promise, or to its predecessor. It's a fine book, and a very readable book - but for all the chase scenes across a wintry, devastated Canadian landscape ravaged by so much death...it's actually a placeholder that bridges the insular first novel with all the actual meat of the story that (presumably) will happen in the final book.
But first, the good. The Lives We Lost shows some great growth in character arcs and introduces a ton of new information about the world beyond the insular confines of Kaelyn's home island. In The Way We Fall, Kaelyn is an innocent, sheltered teenager that lives a quiet life in a quiet place with a good family and close friends. Very quickly, this idyllic lifestyle is irreversibly distorted when the virus claims her neighbors, her friends, her parents - even infecting Kaelyn, along the way. After these struggles, after the pain and loss, Kaelyn finds a new reason to hope in The Lives We Lost and goes on a daring (possibly suicidal) mission to the mainland to find help, in hopes of saving the world. She has to come to grips with her own decisions as the choices that she makes placing others - including her young cousin Meredith, best friend Leo, boyfriend Gavin, and an assortment of new characters - at great risk, and I appreciate this growth and acceptance of the leadership position in this book. Kaelyn is also placed in some morally compromising situations, including the decisions to kill or not to kill, to leave someone behind or to continue pushing on together. The choices she makes might surprise you (they certainly, refreshingly, surprised me). I also appreciated the scope of this second book and the realization that the world has gone to hell, very quickly - while it might be a bit too fast and too much (would society truly have crumbled so quickly and so completely?), I'm a sucker for a total apocalypse, and The Lives We Lost certainly fits the bill.
On the negative side, however, The Lives We Lost has some questionable decisions and shortcomings. In terms of writing, the style of the novel shifts significantly from the first book, and I'm not entirely sure that's a good thing. While it's probably not realistic to tell this second story in the epistolary style of The Way We Fall, I feel like we lose that sense of intimacy with Kaelyn, that deep connection with her character and that sense of claustrophobia, so integral to the first book. In this first person point of view second book, we are privy to Kaelyn's thoughts and fears, but it's an odd choice considering the distinct letter/journal entry style of the first novel.
But beyond stylistic preference, more significantly, there is no getting around the fact that this is a novel suffering from serious middle book syndrome - essentially, the entire novel is a (slow-ish) chase across Canada. Kaelyn and her friends trek to big cities to look for help in probably the most roundabout, disingenuous ways possible, but they are in over their heads and I guess that makes sense. And for all that driving and hiking and hiding and death, nothing really happens in this book. Not much is accomplished in the way of overall storyarc, except that Kaelyn and her friends now have an urgent need to find help before they are caught by some predictably one-note Bad People that want the vaccine for their own nefarious purposes (think...the TV show Revolution or The Walking Dead and the one-note villainous antagonists in power).
There are other things that niggled - there's a Love Triangle (quadrangle?) of Doom that rears its ugly head (in the form of Leo, Kae and Gavin - and Tess). There are quite a few convenient outs for Kaelyn and crew - they find a group of benevolent folks that are happy to take in and offer aid and succor to Kae and her friends, the group is conveniently saved from a whiteout blizzard by a miracle barn in the middle of nowhere (fully stocked with firewood and a truck with gasoline, naturally), and so on and so forth.
These things said, The Lives We Lost is a fine book. It sets the stage for big things to come in book 3, and I'll be around to check it out....more