Since the age of eleven, all Aerin has known is pain and brutality. After their ship crashes on the x-factorOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Since the age of eleven, all Aerin has known is pain and brutality. After their ship crashes on the x-factor planet of Vizhan, Aerin's father - the only family and other person she knows in the entire universe - dies, and Aerin is sold into slavery. Six years have passed since that terrible day, and Aerin has learned to fight, to fend for herself, and, most importantly, how to break free. Making a desperate last gambit for her freedom, Aerin is able to salvage her father's crashed spaceship and escape Vizhan. But escape is only the beginning - and Academy 7 is not about Aerin's daring escape. It is the story of what happens after she is intercepted by an Alliance ship, and she tests into the most prestigious school in the civilized universe.
Like Aerin, Dane Madousin is brilliant and resourceful; unlike Aerin, Dane has grown up with privilege and power (albeit with a controlling, hateful, and abusive family). The son of a powerful Alliance General and Council Member, the roguish Dane has also made the tough academic cut to get into Academy 7 - and it is here Dane and Aerin will meet, where the unlikely pair will become friends, and where they will learn that their pasts intersect in unexpected and tangled ways.
Academy 7 is the first book I've had the pleasure of reading from Anne Osterlund, and holy freaking crap, Han Solo, I loved it. The first thing that needs to be said - and I know every review has pointed this out, but it NEEDS to be emphasized - Academy 7 is a science fiction book. I know, the cover makes it look like a YA boarding school paranormal romance, possibly set in the past (not that there's anything wrong with historical or PNR!), and I get that the publisher wanted to capitalize on Osterlund's brand and made this book look very much like Aurelia and Exile. However, this packaging is incredibly misleading, because (I repeat): this is a science fiction novel. It's not a half-hearted science fiction novel, it's not a fantasy novel with loose SF elements, it is an honest to goodness science fiction novel. With spaceships. And different planets. And souped up technology (ok, mostly science fantasy technology, but don't let that put you off).
Now that we've got genre classification out of the way, on to the good stuff - the story proper, and the wonderful dual protagonists. I love the actual writing style and plot of Academy 7 - yes, this is a book set in a boarding school (think more Hogwarts than Vampire Academy), but it is an incredibly competitive and selective academy that has nothing to do with one's birthright or money and everything to do with one's scholastic aptitude. And, as luck would have it, the two top students in the school are our main characters, Aerin and Dane, who vie for the top marks in all of their classes. I love that the two are not thrown into insta-love/super-magnetic-attraction mode when they first lay eyes on each other, and they become gradual confidants and friends - with romance only coming much, much later as a slow-simmering build up. Even better than that, Aerin and Dane are separate people, that exist and breathe and come to life outside of a relationship with each other - I love the fire of Aerin's convictions and her opinions about intergalactic politics and her need to make the most of the chance she's fought so hard for, just as I love Dane's warring desires to do well and defy his family, tempered with timidity of actually breaking away from his family once and for all. We sympathize with Aerin as she grapples with the trauma of her past, the lessons she has taken to heart to survive and finally live as a free woman; we ache with Dane as we learn the truth of his family, and the cruelty of his father and brother. And we are so, so happy when Aerin and Dane find and confide in each other, two lonely souls that are able to find some peace together.
And then there's the actual story and world, too. The plot is surprisingly insular, more about two students trying to find their place in the world than about big action or explosions or conflict (which suits me just fine). The underlying mystery and driving force of the book is Aerin and Dane's relationship, and the secrets that lie in their pasts (and their uniquely intertwined family heritages). From a worldbuilding perspective, there is plenty going on to satiate the keen SFF fan. The universe of the Alliance is one fraught with internal tensions and political complications. The Alliance relies on an idyllic Manifesto that is great in spirit but often conveniently ignored when it comes to tricky situations or economic motivations - turning a blind eye to x-planets like Vizhan and its validation of slavery. There's a cutthroat Trade Union that is amassing power and opposing the Alliance at every turn, and much at stake for the future of intergalactic peace and travel. In the middle of all this turmoil, Aerin, Dane and their fellow cohorts at Academy 7 are being challenged and educated to grapple with these incredible challenges, which is really, really cool.
In terms of shortcomings, I only have a few, very small nitpicks when it comes to Academy 7. Aerin's father's story and the reason for his exile from the Alliance feels a little underdeveloped, and the answers all come very conveniently (via magical hologram/simulator technology, no less). The writing leans a little towards the overwrought end of the spectrum. Finally, so much of the action happens off screen, related in class lessons or simulations - and that's all fine and good, I do wish that there was more going on in realtime with Aerin and Dane.
All things said, I truly loved this book. Academy 7 is a great choice for readers who might be a little tentative to dip their toes into the science fiction genre - but it's also a great book for longstanding fans of SF, too. All in all, I loved this book and absolutely recommend it as a notable read of 2013.
(So...I'm guessing Aurelia is worth the time and money? I'm excited to read more of Anne Osterlund's work - if you've read her books, please let me know!)...more
Aluna has lived her entire life - all thirteen years - under the sea. She is one of the Kampii, a water-bornOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Aluna has lived her entire life - all thirteen years - under the sea. She is one of the Kampii, a water-born splinter group of humans that took to the oceans generations ago, to escape the death and wastes of the earth above. Aluna loves the water and her people, but she's frustrated with the future that has been set for her with the Kampii. Because their numbers are ever dwindling, all Kampii women are prohibited from the exciting and dangerous jobs (like hunting) and must focus on the important job of, one day, rearing children. At the same time as the Kampii's population dwindles, their tech also starts to fail at an increasing rate - every Kampii is given a "shell" that allows them to breathe underwater, powered by a mysterious source called HydroTek, created by wise and powerful ancestors many generations before.
Over the decades, the Kampii have lost the knowledge of their forebearers, trusting blindly that their technology will always remain in tact and provide for their needs - so when shells start to fail and people start to die, Aluna is terrified at the stagnant, passive stance of the Kampii Elders. Determined to fight for the future of her people, to stop others from dying needless deaths, Aluna decides to spurn the stance of her tribe leaders and searches for answers in the world above. With her best friend Hoku, Aluna sets off on an adventure filled with hidden truths, fierce warriors, new friends, and terrifying enemies.
The first novel in a planned trilogy, Above World is a truly fantastic start to what might just be a new favorite series. In other words: I loved this book. Set in a wonderfully imagined future world, solidly written, with memorable characters and strong central themes, Above World is pretty freaking awesome.
One of my favorite things about this book is the worldbuilding. Set in a future version of our own Earth, Above World is, in fact, a post-apocalyptic future dystopia of sorts. The human race has fallen to overpopulation, plague, and strife; in order to survive, humanity has used science to change their very physiology. Some have taken to the skies, becoming winged Aviars with hollow bones and accustomed to high altitudes; others have taken to the depths as Kampii, with fish tails, dense muscles and bones to withstand extreme deep, cold, and dark. These different splinter groups - adapted to different environments from desert planes to caves - are fascinating, and even more fascinating is the manner in which we learn about the fate of all these different groups and the ancestors who made the choice to embark on this post-human future. There are no huge info-dumps, no awkward or inorganic relays of this data - everything unfolds gracefully, smartly, over the course of the book. While I'm not sure that everything actually makes sense (the easy adaptation that Aluna and Hoku have on land from a life spent in the sea, most notably in their speech and ability to move feels a little off), it doesn't really matter because there are plenty of other nuances that make the experience worth it - Aluna discovering her speed on land for the first time during a sparring match, for example.
I also love that to these characters - Aluna, Hoku, Callie and Dash - technology is akin to magic. We see Hoku and Callie in particular struggle to understand the mechanics behind the tech (from electricity to audio/video, and a particular programmed robotic pet), but for the most part, the underlying principles of the technology that has shaped their different peoples and their future remains an advanced mystery. It's a rather elegant solution, really, and one I appreciated wholeheartedly.
From a character perspective, Above World also shines. I love, love, LOVE Aluna. She's impulsive and fearless, fiercely devoted to her people and to her friends - but that doesn't mean she's flawless. She acts without thinking and gets herself into a very big pickle by the end of the book. The best thing about this? She realizes that her constant rushing headlong into trouble can be a very bad thing. Thankfully, her best friend Hoku - the boy that tends to freeze in the face of danger, but has a huge heart and the brains to match - tends to bail her out in the nick of time. There's also Callie the Aviar, who struggles to fit in with her people and live up to her mother's legacy (but who eventually does, in spades), and Dash the Equine, who is perhaps the least fleshed out of the main cast, but still a strong figure and foil to Aluna.
Of course, there are villains galore, too. I don't want to spoil too much about them, except that they are pretty horrific - I'm talking borg-esque, hybrid human/mech/animal parts nightmares. And the identity of the villain? Also pretty cool. There are high stakes, and dark turns, and...well, I'm excited to see what happens next.
Suffice it to say, I loved this book and I eagerly await book 2, Mirage. Absolutely recommended, and a notable read of 2012....more
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Darkangel and A Gathering of Gargoyles, books 1Originally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for The Darkangel and A Gathering of Gargoyles, books 1 & 2 in the series. If you have not read these books and would like to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY! You have been warned.**
Aeriel has cut out her heart and given it to her husband and beloved Irrylath, saving him from a horrible fate as a true Darkangel. She has travelled the vast sand-filled seas to solve an ancient rime in the hopes of saving her husband and her world from the snare of the White Witch. Now, she has helped Irrylath amass an army to bring the Witch down, but faces her greatest challenge yet when she is run through with the Witch's cruel pin and her memories are robbed. Aeriel must travel to the great city of NuRavenna, and bear a precious pearl to stop the Witch and save her world from the slow death of entropy.
The third and final book in Meredith Ann Pierce's Darkangel trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is powerful, climactic stuff. This is Aeriel's final showdown, and she is tested more sorely than she has ever been before - still, she harbors an unrequited love for her husband (in name only), Irrylath, and still she hopes to win his heart once she has freed him from the talons of the Witch. But, truly, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is so much larger than just Aeriel's yearning for Irrylath - it is the story of a world created and forgotten, of a daughter bent on revenge and power against her mother, and a prophecy that can guide a planet back from the brink of cold death. When I started The Pearl of the Soul of the World, it was with great trepidation. I've heard from many different people that this was their least favorite of the books, and have read reviews that were similarly underwhelmed. But you know what, fellow readers? I think this was a perfect, fitting end to a beautiful, wonderfully strange series. In fact, The Pearl of the Soul of the World is my favorite of the trilogy.
As with A Gathering of Gargoyles before it, this volume expands on the history of Aeriel's world (which is our own moon), this time explaining in depth the ancients that came from Oceanus (Earth), who brought life to a barren rock and crafted creatures to inhabit it and do their bidding. I love the beautiful integration of science fiction with fantasy in this book and series overall -this intersection of my two favorite genres is always welcome, but so rarely does it come off as effortlessly and effectively as it does with Pierce's writing. In this third book, we also learn the truth of Ravenna and Oriencor the Witch, their bond and the madness that drives the Witch to her cruel acts - I won't spoil, but it's a resonant and heartbreaking truth that is revealed, and gives us more insight and understanding of Oriencor as more than just a single-minded monster. We see familiar faces including Irrylath and Erin, my favorites of the cast - Irrylath because he is not magically in love with Aeriel and such a conflicted, dark character; Erin because of her devotion to a true friend, as protective of Aeriel as Aeriel is of her husband (in truth, I consider the love between Erin and Aeriel the true love story of this trilogy - but maybe that's just me).
But most of all? Most of all I loved watching Aeriel on her quest - first as the unwanted slave who defies and redeems a Darkangel, then as a messenger across the sands and seas, and finally, the woman on whose shoulders the weight of the world rests. It is Aeriel's strength, her choices, and her love that defines and saves her world - small, unassuming Aeriel, who is neither powerful nor some preordained-by-the-stars savior. I truly admired the gutsy, heartbreaking strain Pierce places on her heroine and the ultimate choice she must make at the end of this book. And while it might not be popular opinion, I think the ending is just as it should be: sad, yes, but ultimately hopeful and ever so powerful.
What else can I say except that I loved this book dearly, and I feel bereft now that I have finished the trilogy?
If you love fantasy, if you love science fiction, if you love stories and beautiful writing and heartbreaking characters, The Darkangel awaits. Please read it....more
Abby Hale leads a happy and normal life for a twelve year old - she goes to school every day and she's luckyOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Abby Hale leads a happy and normal life for a twelve year old - she goes to school every day and she's lucky enough to have a large, loving family and plenty of friends. And, just like anyone else her age, Abby cannot wait to be Judged, because Judgement means she will finally be an Adult and that she'll FINALLY be able to use magic (just like everyone else in the world). On the day of her Judgement, Abby is an excited mess of nerves and she wonders what rating she'll receive - most kids get a Judgement of 5 or so (although Abby's eldest sister, Alexa, got a nearly unheard-of 9 rating!). But Abby doesn't even pass her first test, and she is Judged as having absolutely zero magical potential.
In other words, Abby is an Ord - that is, she's "Ordinary" therefore impervious to magic and anathema to society.
You see, in Abby's world, everything relies on magic, from the rooms in her family's house to the shortcake that Abby's mother conjures in her bakery. Ords are a danger because they can see through any spells and cannot be affected by magic, and reviled - they are treated as though their Ord-ness is a contagious disease (it's not), and their basic human rights are stripped away. For instance Ords, especially Ord children, are often sold as slaves to traveling Adventurers (who find it useful to have someone impervious to magic on hand to walk through magical booby traps in the pursuit of treasure).
Abby soon learns all of this, as she's kicked out of school, her supposed friends keep their distance, and a pair of brutal Adventurers show up at her family's doorstep looking to purchase Abby for their next adventure. At least Abby has her family who stand by her and love her just as much as if she had been proclaimed an immensely powerful young mage. And just when all seems lost, Abby learns that her life is not without hope and opportunity - her eldest sister, Alexa, works a top secret job in Education for the kingdom, and it turns out she (and newly coronated King Stephen) has been a champion for Ords for years, protecting a school for Ordinary children in the heart of the kingdom's capitol city. Soon enough, Abby is whisked away to Margaret Green School in Rothmere, where she learns that she is one of many Ords, where she makes new friends, and learns how to protect herself and use her Ordinariness to her advantage. Of course, danger abounds (what with redcaps and desperate Adventurers about), but with the help of her family and her friends, Abby may just be able to make it through her first year of school alive.
Well, thank you Stephanie Burgis! Ordinary Magic is EVERY bit as wonderful as promised - there's nothing ordinary about it. The core premise of the book is simple, but brilliant in its simplicity; Abby's world is like a reverse Harry Potter, in which the entire universe is magical, except for a very small subset of folks that are despised for their non-magical-ness. Instead of going to a school for the gifted, Abby goes to a school where she can be safe and where she can learn how to live life in a world built for others (really, upon reflection, "Ords" and "Oridnary" seems a misnomer because Abby and her fellow Ords are not average or typical in the slightest - in fact they are very OUT of the ordinary). The revulsion that other characters feel for Abby and her new friends is a searing, believable examination of xenophobia, of racism, of the despicable fear of those who are different. I love the careful, considered examination of these issues in the book, in a way that never feels didactic or exploitative, and is seamlessly integral to the story.
I also love the consideration of the world itself, too. While I wonder where the fear and hatred for Ords came from (fodder for future books, right?), I love the distinction between ords being impervious to magic, but NOT impervious to normal things that would kill anyone. As one of Abby's teachers points out, ords are impervious to magical fire, but they will burn just like anyone else if a spell is cast that creates a non-magical, regular fire. We also get to see just how ingrained magic is in this world, as when Abby volunteers for kitchen duty, she - for the very first time in her life! - has to wash a dish (dirty dishes in the Hale household are magicked away and back into existence, clean as ever).
But you know what I loved most of all about this book? The characters, and the relationships between the characters. I adored the family dynamic between Abby, her sisters Olivia and Alexa, and her protective brothers Gil and Jeremy, and especially her parents. Instead of absentee parents, or cruel siblings, the Hale family is a tight-knit bunch that unconditionally loves its youngest member, Abby. I even love the realistic tension that emerges at Abby's school - because unlike other Ords, Abby is incredibly lucky to have a supportive family (so many other family's turn their children out or sell them when they are Judged to be Ords), to the resentment of other characters.
And then there's our heroine Abby, herself. Like Stephanie Burgis' Kat Stephenson books, I love that the novel follows Abby and not her older siblings - let's face it, the story of Alexa, who is a level 9 mage (that's 9 out of a possible - or rather, impossible - 10!) and selflessly devoted to improving the law and living conditions for Ords even before her sister was claimed one is an easy shoe-in for heroine of a YA or older fantasy series. That said, how predictable would that have been? I LOVE the perspective we get from Abby who is NOT powerful or particularly ingenius, but who has guts and the love of her family and friends to guide her. She's brave and resourceful, but the thing that is so awesome about Abby is her belief and trust in those she cares for. And that's just Abby! The other characters in this book are brilliantly detailed and fleshed out, from the curmudgeonly Peter (there's a sweet beginning of a romance here, handled beautifully) to the passionate ord self-defense teacher Becky.
What else can I say about Ordinary Magic? This is a fantastic book in a richly imagined and fascinating world. I loved Ordinary Magic very, very much, and I sincerely hope there will be more adventures of Abby and her fellow Ords in the very near future....more
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle mOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
In a small fishing village on the coast of the wide, stormy sea, a bright-eyed young woman named Periwinkle makes her home. After her father, a fisherman, rows out his ship and never returns, Peri's mother lapses into quiet despair, forgetting to talk and always staring out at the roiling sea and fantasizing about the people that live in its depths. Without her parents to watch over her or remind her to do things like brush her hair or hem her clothes, Peri grows from a quiet child to a wild and somewhat neglected young woman - her hair always a tangle, her dresses bleached of all color, too tight in some places, too loose in others. Even the old wise woman who used to brush Peri's hair in her small cottage disappears one day, leaving Peri without anyone to care for her at all. During the day, she works at the local inn, scrubbing floors and cleaning rooms; by night, she returns to the old woman's cottage and makes her own isolated home where she plots her revenge against the sea. Hateful of the ocean that has taken both of her parents away, Peri crafts three crude hexes to curse the sea - it is here that she meets Prince Kir, who also knew the wise woman and years for her counsel. Kir has deep troubles of his own, also connected to the watery depths, and hopes that Peri can help him make his peace with the ocean that haunts his every waking moment. When Peri finishes her hexes and throws them deep into the great water, she also includes an offering from Kir - and to Peri's great astonishment, her hexes start to work.
A great sea dragon starts to appear amongst the fishermen's boats on the sea, with an impossibly large gold chain around its neck. Then, a magician comes to town, promising that he will be able to remove the chain and give the gold to the villagers - for a price. And most importantly, Kir's dreams of the sea grow more fevered and frantic, as his own unknown, hidden past catches up to him. And it is all up to Periwinkle to set everything back to rights.
To date, I've only read a handful of books and short stories from Patricia McKillip, mostly her recent releases. The Changeling Sea, however, is one of McKillip's earlier works, originally published in the 1980s and instantly endeared itself to me - a changeling fable that takes place by the stormy sea? What better place to jump into McKillip's rich and extensive backlist? And you know what? I absolutely loved this book. Shortly put: The Changeling Sea is another gorgeous, wonderful book from the incredibly talented McKillip.
I'm going to say something that sounds incredibly cheesy, but it is so very true: Patricia McKillip has a way with words that is simply magical. Like The Bell at Sealey Head or The Bards of Bone Plain, The Changeling Sea is a slender book, but one written with lush and evocative prose that is as beautiful as it is simple. For example:
A sigh, smelling of shrimp and seaweed, wafted over the water... In the deep waters beyond the stones, a great flaming sea-thing gazed back at her, big as a house or two, its mouth a strainer like the mouth of a baleen whale, its translucent fiery streamers coiling and uncoiling languorously in the warm waters. The brow fins over its wide eyes gave it a surprised expression. Around its neck, like a dog collar, was a massive chain of pure gold.
Beautiful, no? Such is McKillip's writing, littered throughout with these gleaming gems of description and story.
Love and anger are like land and sea: They meet at many different places.
As the title suggests, The Changeling Sea is a fable about a changeling, and a story whose heart is inextricably tied to the sea. It's a book about love - no, scratch that. It's actually a book about yearning for what once was, and what can never be again. It's the book of a King that yearns for the beauty of the sea queen in all her splendor, the story of two brothers crossed at birth that yearn for their true homes on sea and on land. It's the story of a wild haired, barefooted fisherman's daughter that dares hex the spiteful sea, and yearns for the love of one that can never return it. Aren't these some of the best of all? These stories of want and hate and love, all jumbled up into one powerful package of emotion?
And then there are the characters! Periwinkle, our heroine, is a pinched and angry character at first, who scowls at the ocean but refuses to leave its shores despite her hate. She's bold and wild, who cares little about the conventions that bind others - she doesn't have secret dreams of catching the prince's eye like the other girls who work at the inn, and she doesn't pay attention to her clothes or her hair. She's smart but rough around the edges, passionate but obstinate - and for all that, a character you cannot help but love, flaws and all. There is the tortured Kir, who is...well, defined by his yearning for the ocean and his feeling that he does not belong on dry land. There's also the sea dragon himself, who is not at all what he seems, and a king that has made mistakes in his past but loves his children and lovers dearly. But for all that, my other favorite character in this beautiful little book is Lyo - the canny magician, with his smiling face and his penchant for twisting magic in delightful, unexpected ways.
All in all, I loved The Changeling Sea, and absolutely recommend it. I cannot wait to try more of Patricia McKillip's work - now, any suggestions on where to go next? ...more
Once upon a time, there was a faraway kingdom called Phantasmorania, ruled by a benevolent King and Queen. ThOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Once upon a time, there was a faraway kingdom called Phantasmorania, ruled by a benevolent King and Queen. This happy royal couple was also blessed with the birth of six beautiful daughters, each princess more beautiful than the last, with rippling blonde hair, jewel blue eyes, and the fairest complexions of palest cream. And, each princess was given the name of a precious stone - Diamond, Opal, Emerald, Sapphire, Crystal, and Pearl. One fine day, the royal cannon boomed out twenty times, signifying the birth of a seventh princess, much to the delight of the townspeople, for it was common knowledge that the seventh princess was a good omen, and destined to be the most beautiful of them all.
To celebrate the birth of their seventh child, the King and Queen decided to throw a grand celebration, and invited all of the fairies of the land in the hopes that they would bestow delightful and useful presents on their youngest child. And bestow these fine gifts the fairies did - Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne was given Charm and Wit and Grace and Courage, and many other similar traits besides, heaped on her already quite beauteous and sweet-tempered head of gold curls. But then, the most powerful fairy god-mother in the land - the prickly older fairy Crustacea with a notorious temper - bestowed her final gift on young Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne:
"Wit, Charm, Courage, Health, Wisdom, Grace...Good gracious, poor child! Well, thank goodness my magic is stronger than anyone else's. She raised her twisty coral stick and waved it three times over the cradle of the seventh princess. "My child," said the Fairy Crustacea, "I am going to give you something that will probably bring you more happiness than all these fal-lals and fripperies put together. You shall be Ordinary!"
And with that parting gift, Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne became quite Oridnary indeed. Her angelic disposition immediately became that of a normal cranky baby, her golden curls darkened and straightened, her complexion turned mottled and then freckled. As the years passed, she simply became known as Princess Amy - Ordinary, but happy, and far more interested in escaping to the woods to play than in the tedious rigors of court life, embroidering, or husband-finding. When all of Amy's sisters have been married off, however, and the princely prospects for the very Ordinary Amy look slim, her parents decide to resort to drastic measures to trick a prince into marrying the last daughter (the good old throw her in an isolated tower protected by a dragon scheme). Rather than endure that nonsense, Amy decides to run away - and embarks on an adventure that will lead to another kingdom, where she will find happiness, hard work, and someone who may be just as wonderfully Ordinary as she.
Originally published in 1980, The Ordinary Princess is a charming, delightful little middle grade book. Taking the very familiar tropes of fairy tales - the beautiful princesses with hair of spun gold and eyes of sky blue, gifted with all the riches and graces in the land - and gives them a very overt twist. Kaye poses a very interesting question in The Ordinary Princess, because no matter how beautiful these traditional fairy tale princesses may be, wouldn't their lives be so very boring? How dull and unfulfilling would it be to be have everything given to you, to be forced into always acting properly and looking beautiful? With heroine Princess Amy - who is still quite gifted with Grace and Health and Wit and all those other good things, mind you - we see how beauty can be overrated, and that happiness comes from the choices one makes and not what one looks like. While the message is hardly subtle, it's an important one and one that is done well in this delightful book.
There is a very linear, predictable nature to this story - and in that way it is in fact a perfect fairy tale. I'm reminded of Philip Pullman's own words in Tales from the Brothers Grimm regarding the essential components of a great fairy tale: the story must move quickly and told in an economy of words that is evocative, winsome, and most importantly brief. Characters do not need to be deeply nuanced or layered, and actions like falling in love are simple milestones that happen quickly, without elaboration or explanation. And in a book that is so clearly paying homage to the traditional folk tale, The Ordinary Princess certainly excels, telling a very different variation of a familiar princess story while adhering to the key ingredients that make a fairy tale successful. And that, dear readers, is thanks to voice. The most impressive and delightful thing about The Ordinary Princess is its narrative skill with words and that storyteller's voice - there is humor aplenty, charm in abundance, as well as the proper fairy tale-ish type of cadence and style. In under 150 pages? This is no small feat, but one that M.M. Kaye has accomplished so convincingly.
It's easy for me to see why this particular book is so beloved; for even if the elements are simple and familiar, sometimes the simple and familiar are all you need. Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a quick, refreshingly sweet and fun read. ...more
I'm quite sure that, in twenty or thirty years' time, people will say about this morning, "I'll never forget where I was when I heard the news."
So begins The FitzOsbornes at War, with the news of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announcing that the country at long last is at war with Germany. Sophie FitzOsborne may be a princess, but she and the rest of her family have been in exile from their invaded homeland for two years. While the events at the end of The FitzOsbornes in Exile ended with a rousing declaration against the aggression of the Nazis, who had invaded and seized their homeland, finally England is at war. For Sophie, war is a frightening, unfathomable beast - and with her brother Toby (current King of Montmaray) and cousin Simon enlisted in the Royal Air Force, fear is an ever-present companion. At least for the first few months, nothing seems to be happening. Sophie and her cousin Veronica move to London and take up in a small flat adjacent to the grand Montmaray House, finding ways to help with the war effort - Veronica finds a position with the Foreign Affairs office, while Sophie takes a role in the Ministry of Food. When the fighting starts in earnest, food and everyday items are rationed, and bombs start falling on London, the grim reality of war sets in. And for Sophie, for her beloved family and dear friends, nothing will ever be the same.
A far cry from the engagements and parties of The FitzOsbornes in Exile, or the smaller daydreams of a girl staring out of her ruined castle on the rocky shores of A Brief History of Montmaray, The FitzOsbornes at War is a more somber, but ever more powerful book. It's an older book (Sophie is now in her twenties), but it also deals with the most grave subject matter - the crescendo of discordant war and fear to which the first two novels were building. Easily, this third and final novel is the best of the Montmaray books; the most heart-rending, the most resonant. And, as with the first two novels, The FitzOsbornes at War all hinges on voice. An epistolary series of entries, related in english to us but coded in kernetin, it is Sophie's voice that drives the Montmaray novels, and it is her voice that makes this final act so resonant and truthful. Unlike, say, Elizabeth Wein's Code Name Verity (which is also an epistolary novel of WWII, but far more extravagant, with characters that are spies and pilots in the thick of action and interrogation), Cooper's is a book that examines the sacrifices and horrors, the tedium and changes to everyday life endured by those in London during the Blitz and subsequent years. Through Sophie's journal entries, we see how she and Veronica prepare their flat for blackouts every night; we huddle with them as the bombs fall; we feel their keen edge of frustration and impotence as night after night they rush to the cellars to sleep, they queue for hours for a bar of soap. It's a completely different kind of story of war, a quieter one, but one that Cooper masterfully relates through Sophie's honest, engaging voice.
As a heroine, Sohpie has grown so much over the course of these three books. The childhood dreams of her journals as a sixteen year old on Montmaray feel like a whole lifetime apart from this new older, wiser protagonist. She still struggles with her feelings and relationships with her other family members, but she has grown into confidence and self-acceptance; her narrative spends less time worrying about luncheons and the schemes of Aunt Charlotte, and turns to other, deeper reflection - relationships and love, yes, but also the roles women play in the war, of her own sexuality, of her own beliefs and self-worth. It's not just Sophie that changes here, though. We also see a dramatically changed Toby - whose heartbreaking arc is a departure from the carefree charmer of the past - and a Veronica that comes to grips with her own emotions and attachments. Henry is a girl of sixteen, whose exuberance and rebellious nature remains unchecked, driving her to become expelled from school and to enlist, while Simon too becomes a much more serious and conflicted character as the war progresses. And, as this is a novel of war and struggle, not everyone makes it out alive. No one makes it out unscarred.
There are so many other characters, too - the Stanley-Rosses, the Kennedeys, and more play a vital role in this third novel. You may recognize some of the names - Billy Hartington and Kick Kennedy, for example - who actually were real figures. As with the first two books, The FitzOsbornes at War blends historical fact with fiction effortlessly. This novel, however, is far more extensive in breadth and depth of research; I'm in awe of how much research went into the writing of this book. (Don't believe it? There's an extensive author's note at the end of the book explaining which elements are fact and which are fictitious - it's a very, very long list.) Informative and thorough without being info-dumpy or preachy, accurate without being dry or boring, The FitzOsbornes at War touches on everything from wartime ration pamphlets to auxillary airforce responsibilities and stations.
What else can I say about The FitzOsbornes at War? I loved this book. I loved it because it tore out my heart as I anguished with Sophie and her dear family and friends. But I loved it more because it gently restored that same heart, injured, bruised, bleeding, but hopeful - hopeful for the future of the FitzOsbornes, for Montmaray, and for the war-battered world in the aftermath of so much horror and death. If there's one thing that The FitzOsbornes at War does, it gravely and truthfully shows that in war, there are no winners, no glorious shining victors. Everything changes for Sophie and her kin in this book, and through her frank, heartbreaking narrative, we observe the saga of a family struggling to survive in wars senseless, fickle path of destruction.
This is a cathartic conclusion to a brilliant trilogy; a tale of endurance and hope and bitter change. I dearly loved The FitzOsbornes at War, and will cherish it as one of my favorite reads in the years to come. One of my top 10 favorite novels of 2012, and a perfect, if heartbreaking, end to a truly amazing trilogy.
And I end this review with an earnest plea: if you haven't read the Montmaray books yet, please, please give Princess Sophia and her family a try. You will not regret the journey - though you may like me lose a piece of your heart to the FitzOsbornes along the way....more
Thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and dividedOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Thousands of years ago, the people of the turtle made the desert their home and divided into several clans. It was a difficult way of life and many people died in the harsh desert. Those souls of the first dead wandered around our world until they found the Dreaming, where they remained.
But the souls could not rest in peace in the Dreaming when they could see how their people suffered in the desert. And so it has come to pass that the souls of the dead ancestors, using the magic of the Dreaming, created the Gods – one for each clan. And now, every hundred years they send the Gods’ souls to walk around their people so they can help them survive.
But the souls of the Gods cannot inhabit just anybody – they must enter the bodies of a Vessel, a person who has connections to the Dreaming and to magic. Liyana is the current Vessel of her clan and has prepared her whole life to be the vessel of her Goddess. She loves her life and her family but she is prepared to sacrifice herself and to die so that her clan can live, especially now with the Great Draught. The day arrives for her Goddess to come and Liyana says goodbye to her family and to her clan, then dances the night away calling for the Goddess.
But her Goddess never comes. And although she has done every single thing right, although she has danced with a pure heart, her clan deems her unworthy and leave her behind. She is devastated and expects to die alone in the desert.
Until a God walks into her life – he is Korbyn, the trickster God, inhabiting his own vessel. He brings news that some of the Gods (including Lilyana’s) have been kidnapped. They say need to find their vessels and then go in search of the missing Gods and Goddesses.
In the meantime, the Emperor of the people-not-of-the-desert is also finding a way for his own people to survive the Great Draught – and will stop at nothing to make it happen.
Vessel is an absolutely brilliant book and I found very little to criticise. It reads a lot like an old-fashioned adventure Fantasy and it features a very thought-provoking premise. Everything works here – the lovely writing, the well developed world-building, the vivid desert setting and the characters. Lilyana, is an absolutely fabulous character: ever so practical, determined to do her best for her family (especially her little brother) even as she is trapped between wanting to live and knowing she must sacrifice herself.
In that sense, the most striking aspect of Vessel is how thought-provoking it turned out to be. This is a story full of questioning and the author incorporated this questioning really well into the narrative – in the way that the story is told, with the way the characters interact with each other and with their world.
The premise – the thing that these Vessels MUST believe, as they have been told all their lives is that 1) the desert clans cannot survive without the magic of their Gods and 2) the Vessel must die so that the clans can carry on living. But are those things even true? I thought fascinating how, as the story progresses and as Lilyana and the other Vessels interacted, different facets of these “truths” were disclosed. From different ways of thinking and different ways of living to how each clan is different and how they treat their Vessels differently.
The Vessels themselves are portrayed with variety: there are those who don’t question anything, those who are completely dedicated to their Gods, those who do not want to die or even care about their Gods. And of course, there are the Gods themselves – to some they are benevolent creatures, to others they are but leeches. Although the better developed God-character is Korbyn (and who doesn’t love a trickster God) , the other Gods and Goddess all embody different aspects and act accordingly – some love the people they come to save, some only care about enjoying a body once again. Do the Gods even need the bodies of the Vessel to work their magic? Is there even logic to all of that?
In addition, there are great discussions about tradition, faith, destiny and survival. The presence of the Emperor – a young, charismatic leader - brings a bit of politics to the proceedings: should all the peoples unite against a common enemy? Or should they fight for their independence no matter what? There is no easy solution to this question and as such none is presented here.
There is also an incredible amount of importance given to stories and storytelling within this world. Often Lilyana will tell traditional stories of her people which in turn, bring up other questions. How do you interact with the stories and the myths – are they supposed to be seen as truth? Are they supposed to be lessons? What do you take from those lessons?
On the down side, the Emperor is not as a fleshed-out character as he should have been. And the romantic development (as “right” as it turned out to be) between certain characters was perhaps too abrupt and underdeveloped. Those things said, they did not detract at all from the reading experience.
In summation: I really, really loved Vessel and think it is a superior, welcome addition to the YA Fantasy ranks.
I also love how the author succinctly, perfectly described the book:
“Vessel is a story about losing your destiny and what happens after.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Ana - Vessel is a beautiful, thought-provoking, brilliant gem of a novel that I loved from beginning to end. In fact, I think I'll come out and say it - it easily makes my shortlist of notable reads of 2012, and may even hit the top 10 list. Suffice it to say: I loved this book.
Ana has already talked about the awesome writing and questions that the novel poses, observations that I echo. I love that while Vessel is a fantasy novel about a girl whose destiny is thwarted and who finds her own way to help her people, it is also a parable about growing up. When Liyana is young, she - like everyone else in her clan - unwaveringly accepts her tribe's way of life, their beliefs and traditions. She does not want to die, necessarily, but she knows that by letting her goddess Bayla use her body as a vessel, she will be saving the lives of her clan, as countless vessels have done before her. When Bayla doesn't come as summoned, however, everything that Liyana has held as simple truth, everything she has been taught and told is challenged. And isn't that the way it always works? Gods or Goddesses aside, Liyana's eye-opening journey about the history of her people and the infallibility of her deities and elders is one with any reader can identify.
Another standout feature of Vessel are the characters themselves: protagonist Liyana, the big-hearted trickster god Korbyn, the other vessels Pia, Fennick, Raan, and the mysterious Emperor himself. Liyana, our heroine, is sorely tested throughout - abandoned by her clan (but given a chance at survival by her loving family), abandoned by her goddess, she must fend for herself in order to survive. Even when she is joined by the trickster god Korbyn (who was able to make it to his vessel safely), Liyana remains calm and in control, grounded in her own sense of self and always remembering that she is a vessel and that she must find her goddess Bayla. I love how her perceptions of both her world and herself change over the course of the novel, as Liyana clings stubbornly to her desire to live - and why shouldn't she? The other vessels are also given life and depth, from Fennick of the horse tribe and his brawny pigheadedness - but with a heart of gold beneath his bluster - to Pia, the beautiful blind songstress who is a haughty princess at first, but a true pure and perceptive soul. Of course, my favorite other characters are Korbyn, the beguiling trickster who comes to care for Liyana as more than just the vessel for his beloved Bayla, and Raan, the stubborn, questioning contrarian of the group. Raan is the only one that voices her defiance of being a vessel, who questions why she must die - which comes into play in the pivotal climax of the novel.
And the plotting! Vessel is an adventure novel, spanning the desert and another empire, even to a forbidden lake of magic and the creatures that guard it. The plotting and worldbuilding in this book are truly masterful, unique and utterly memorable.
Ultimately, Vessel reminds me of the great sweeping works of adventure fantasy that made me fall in love with the genre - and Vessel will be placed on my beloved books shelf, right in between my collection of Jacqueline Carey and Rachel Neumeier novels.
Ana: 8 - Excellent
Thea: I'll see Ana's 8 and raise it to a 9 - Damn Near Perfection...more
When Ana and I sat down to figure out what old-school, non-white/European science fiction novel to review next, one childhood favorite immediately jumped to mind: Reefsong by Carol Severance. I couldn’t recall much of the novel, other than that the protagonist had crazy biologically engineered tentacles for hands and the book was set on a distant planet inspired by Polynesian cultures. And, oh yeah, I remember that I really loved the book. Thanks to the power of ebooks, Reefsong has been saved from out-of-print purgatory and is the subject of today’s review.
Re-reading a childhood favorite is a terrifying thing—it’s nigh impossible for it to live up to sentimental expectations. Amazingly, Reefsong not only passes the test of time, it was even better than I remembered.
Reefsong tells the story of Angie Dinsman, a UN peacekeeper and skilled fire warden in the employ of the World Life Company on a future version of Earth. After Angie nearly dies in a rescue attempt on the job, she awakens to find her body irrevocably modified: The World Life Company, owning 10 years of Angie’s life on a contract, has replaced her burned hands with tentacles and given her gills. Angie has unwillingly become a “squid” and, as part of a desperate gamble by the company, she is sent to recover sensitive, top-level research hidden in the algae blooms on the distant water planet of Lesaat. Needless to say, Angie is pissed at having been experimented on against her will, but grudgingly agrees to help—if only to find a way to find a way to tear the company down from the inside.
Featuring capable, intelligent heroines (Angie and her 14-year-old cohort, Pua) and a respectful take on a Polynesian-inspired culture, Reefsong excels on both the character and world-building fronts. Angie is a no-nonsense protagonist betrayed by someone close to her and finds herself victim of the company’s nefarious schemes. But instead of crumbling, she rallies. She must also confront her own prejudices and fears: her distaste for those who have gills and webbed (or now tentacled) hands and her fear of drowning. The world of Lesaat and the role of the Company in this future dystopian universe is well defined, as Reefsong grapples with issues of exploitation and ecological degradation without slipping into didacticism.
While some of the writing feels slightly dated—there’s an interesting use of exclamation points, and expletives are sanitized with phrases like “fire-loving” or “spit!”—the technology, genetics and science fiction aspects do not. In fact, Reefsong is easily better than any number of current SFF dystopias (especially those of the YA-crossover variety). Basically, Reefsong rocks. Absolutely recommended to readers of all ages and eras.
In Book Smugglerish, a cool 8 out of 10.
Unlike Thea, I had zero familiarity with the novel and the only real expectation I had came from a preoccupation with cultural appropriation since the novel uses elements from Polynesian culture in the creation of its world. I also had fingers (and toes) crossed that this 1991 novel would not be as dated as a The KLF album.
Thankfully, Reefsong turned out to be a pleasant surprise. In fact, I absolutely loved it.
A futuristic dystopian world controlled by a company whose tentacles spread across the universe and whose influence is felt deeply in the lives of the citizens under its tutelage, this is a book with teeth. From its opening chapter, it is easy to see how no character is safe and that this company really means business when it comes to the control they try to assert. Breaking this control is, of course, inevitable and the fun centers around how the characters develop their plans.
Plot and character development merged successfully, and as one progressed, the other followed suit. I loved the book for its plethora of well-developed, fully fleshed main and secondary characters—most especially its portrayal of female characters. I loved that Pua, one of the main protagonists, is a pragmatic, headstrong, obstinate 14-year-old girl who has a clear plan for the future of her people. I loved that there is no sign of any false dichotomy between the pursuit of science and respect for nature; both are intrinsically linked. I loved the respectful way that Pacific cultures and peoples are incorporated into this story with a strong voice and active presence.
The things I listed above should be minimum requirement for any well-conceived sci-fi book. But when you read (or try to) as many dystopian sci-fi YA novels as we do, you come across false dichotomies and ridiculous, badly conceived premises that crumble under any amount of scrutiny. Books like Reefsong come as a breath of fresh air.
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island forAna’s Take:
This probably sounds extremely clichéd, but reading a Frances Hardinge book is like entering a whole new world. Take Gullstruck Island for example: where consuming a certain type of fish allows one a glimpse of the future; where a beetle song is deadly; and where different peoples fight for survival, as the places for the honoured dead expand at the expense of the places for the living. On one small corner of the island, the Lace – who smile all the time with their adorned teeth and whose names imitate the sounds of nature so that they don’t draw attention from the volatile, living volcanoes that pepper the island – struggle against poverty and overwhelming prejudice.
Their only hope is their Lost, Arilou, who might one day become the most important person on the island and bring riches to the Lace. Born only occasionally and respected for their abilities, the Lost are a different people on their own. Able to send their senses away from their bodies and wander around, they function as the island’s main form of communication across towns and as a sort of sage figure, their important political role unspoken rather than openly asserted.
Arilou is a different Lost though – someone whose mind wanders and rarely comes back. She can’t communicate and that is the best kept secret amongst the Lace, a secret shared and understood without being spoken out loud. Enter Hathin: Arilou’s unassuming sister, born especially to take care of Arilou, to be there for her at all times and to speak on her behalf. It is on her young shoulders that the fate of the Lace truly lies and she lives with this truth every single day of her life.
But then…the Lost start to die mysteriously. All of them are gone except for Arilou and so a history of mistrust and prejudice leads to the Lace being found guilty. Arilou and Hathin must run for their lives but how can the duo survive when one of them can hardly function on her own, on an island where everybody hates them and with an assassin on their track?
And this barely scratches the surface of Gullstruck Island.
Adventurous, wildly imaginative, engaging, thought-provoking, often heartbreaking, always inspiring, Gullstruck Island soars powerfully and beautifully. I feel like a broken record but Frances Hardinge’s imagination is otherworldly and awe-inspiring. It frustrates me a little bit that I do not have the equivalent talent (LOL, how could I) in order to express how good her books are, how awesome Gullstruck Island is. I always feel when I am writing a review of one of her books that I am woefully boring and incapable to convey the sheers brilliance of her stories. I tend to dwell on certain aspects like her powerful social commentary or her heroines’ incredible story arcs and then miss things like…say, the Reckoning in Gullstruck Island. They are group of Lace warriors who abjured their older lives so that they can avenge the death of those they loved and whose deadly weapons are anything they can get a hold of. And then there is the whole thing about the difference between revenge and justice and how different people choose different ways and it is awesome.
The best thing is how Gullstruck Island (the place) is a completely different, original setting in which familiar themes of friendship, sisterhood, coming of age, overcoming prejudice and finding one’s place in the world are explored without a shadow of clichéd writing or oversimplification.
A theme that runs through Gullstruck Island is the insidious nature of prejudice which sometimes is not even OVERT and can even be disguised as friendly. Take this quote for example:
It was a joke, but centuries of distrust and fear lay behind it.
Soon somebody would say something that was sharper and harder, but it would still be a joke. And then there would be a remark like a punch in the gut, but made as a joke. And then they would detain her if she tried to leave, and nobody woujld stop them because it was all only a joke…
Look at me, I am going on and on about things and I haven’t even mentioned the fact that the characters are all incredibly well done and I loved them and I hated them and I feared for them and I rooted for them. But most especially, Hathin is such an amazingly drawn, complex protagonist and her arc is inspiring (how many times have I used this word in this review?) and her actions are stirring and affecting. From her complicated relationship with her sister to the way she feels about her place in the world, it is impossible not to empathise with this character. And world, why can’t we have female protagonists like these all the time?
I seriously believe that there is nothing quite like Frances Hardinge’s books out there at the moment – in any shape or form (or genre and age group).
Dear Frances Hardinge: you have ruined me for other books this year and I love you for it.
And I will just finish with my favourite quote from the book:
“I am anything I wish to be. The world cannot choose for me. No, it is for me to choose what the world shall be.”
Yes, yes, yes. Everything that Ana said. I have jumped on the Frances Hardinge bandwagon and have no plans of jumping off. Gullstruck Island is a beautiful, wildly imaginative book that is unlike most anything else out on the market today. Heck, I can’t think of any author in the YA or even adult space that possesses the same imaginative scope as Frances Hardinge.
In Gullstruck Island, we are introduced to an island-society, stratified by different groups of people – varied in their beliefs, in terms of their tribal representations, appearance, and history. Our heroine, Hathin, is one of the Lace – a group of peoples on Gullstruck, marginalized because of their air of perceived secrecy and duplicity, a prejudice that dates back to a time when the always-smiling Lace secretly killed and sacrificed humans to placate the volcanoes on the island. Since that horrific discovery generations earlier, the Lace have been ostracized and demonized by all other tribes on the island, from the Bitter-Fruit clan to the Sours. The one silver lining that the Lace have is Arilou – the Lost are rare on Gullstruck, but there has never been a Lost Lace before, so the respect and power that comes with having a Lady Lost is a huge boon to Arilou’s particular tribe (the Hollow Beasts).
There’s only one problem: Arilou, for all her beauty and seeming appearance of a Lady Lost, has never shown a sign that she is anything more than a mentally handicapped girl. This is the Hollow Beasts’ greatest secret, and all falls on the shoulders of young Hathin, Arilou’s sister and “interpreter” who, over the years, has cultivated a commanding voice for Arilou all the while making herself invisible and insignificant to any inquiring outsiders. When a pair of inspectors come to test Arilou and ensure she is, in fact, one of the Lost, things look bad for Hathin and her tribe. When one of the inspectors dies suddenly, and the other goes missing, marooned on the open ocean, things look even worse.
Someone is blaming their deaths on the Hathin’s people, and single-handedly leading an already Lace-prejudiced populace into an angry mob that seeks to wipe Hathin’s tribe from Gullstruck. It is up to Hathin to save Arilou, to avenge her tribe, and save the Lace from annihilation.
I cannot express how complex this book is, and how carefully and completely Frances Hardinge creates the world of Gullstruck and all its various peoples. The central themes of discrimination, fear, and unwarranted prejudice, stirred by heated to a frenzy by some very nasty individuals is not an unfamiliar one – finding an ethnic group or people of a different belief system to blame for misfortune is, unfortunately, a prevalent theme in human nature. In Gullstruck Island, Hardinge examines these ugly human sentiments with careful attentiveness and draws these historical parallels without ever seeming heavy-handed or didactic. This is the stuff of great writing, folks – and Hardinge handles these very important topics with all the grace and import they deserve.
But beyond the social strata and commentary, Hardinge also manages to simply create a world that is amazingly, breathtakingly full. It’s hard to believe that Gullstruck Island is not a real place, with real people! We learn the different languages that these people speak (“Nundesrruth” short for “not under this roof” is a pidgin dialect, versus “Doorsy” which is the formal spoken and written language on the island). More than that, we see their different customs and beliefs, from the Lace’s affinity for smiling and drilling precious jewels in their teeth and creating long strands of shell jewelry, to the Ash people’s hunger for human ash to create and dye their skins and their goods. There are familiar elements from many different cultures and civilizations, but Hardinge makes these inhabitants completely her own.
And the characters! And the plot twists! What more can I say that Ana hasn’t already said? I loved Hathin with the force of a thousand supernovas. I loved her dedication to her sister Arilou, her feelings of pain and fear and ineptitude when her tribe is massacred, her desire to seek revenge and join the Reckoning. I loved Arilou, too, and the twists that come with her character in particular. There are villains and friends aplenty in Gullstruck Island, all believable and formidable enough, given texture and distinction with Hardinge’s clever prose.
If I had one complaint about this book – which isn’t so much a complaint as a note – it is that Gullstruck Island is unnecessarily long. This is something that I’ve noticed with Hardinge’s other books, and I think a detriment to her work. This title, as with A Face Like Glass are very long, very dense creatures that require days of reading time – and I’m an adult, that can read pretty quickly! Gullstruck Island is not the same type of quick, compulsive read that a Harry Potter or Twilight novel is – and I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I do think this is a reason why Frances Hardinge is not a household name. A middle grade level reader or YA reader, the target reader to which Hardinge’s books are aimed, likely does not have hours and hours of reading time. Gullstruck Island is a wonderful, complex novel as it is, but it probably could stand some careful pruning – which would not only help the story move along in a more direct fashion, but could also help its marketability to new audiences.
That said, I loved this book just way it is, and Gullstruck Island is absolutely one of my notable reads of 2012 (it would’ve made my top 10, had it been published in 2012!). Wholeheartedly, unabashedly recommended. ...more
"I thought about Mum’s vintage shop. How she believed that if she found something broken and lovingly putOriginal review posted on The Book Smugglers
"I thought about Mum’s vintage shop. How she believed that if she found something broken and lovingly put it back together, that someone would come along and love it again."
16-year-old Chinese-Australian Amy Lee walks into her own story dressed up as The Princess Bride’ Buttercup and I love her already. It’s Eighties Theme Day at her school and as she makes her way there with her BFF Rebecca dressed as Kylie Minogue (and trying to avoid three Jason Donovans chasing Rebecca-Kylie), she stumbles into a vintage 80s locket with a picture of a boy inside. Even though she has grown up listening to her mother’s traditional sayings about Ghosts, she is not prepared for when Locket-boy shows up in his full ghostly glory. Logan is adrift: he has no memory of his last name or of what has happened to him (he obviously died very young) but he does remember his girlfriend Stacey who looks uncannily like Rebecca. Amy is certain that the locket was meant to be found by Rebecca but she becomes increasingly attached to Logan and they start to investigate his past in order to find out what happened to him. He might be the boy of her dreams. He might come from her past life. He might not be real.
The more I think about Preloved the more I find things to love about it. It does have a certain slapstick, lightly humorous tone to it that at first makes it seem fun yet superficial. BUT as the story progresses it becomes clear that this is a tale with hidden depths – just there waiting to be discovered by the reader. The investigation about Logan and how he might be connected with Amy and Rebecca is what might overtly drive the narrative but what makes it work and shine is Amy’s arc.
Is this the story of a Bad Romance because after all, Amy is irrevocably falling in love with a dead boy? Or is this Amy’s own ghostly story through and through? Is she haunted by Logan or is she haunted by her own past?
Amy is kind of a lost girl: literally and figuratively. She has been living on the shadow of her best friend Rebecca, trying to recover from her parent’s divorce, not very sure how to behave or how to assert her individuality. There is also a very interesting element of cultural dissonance as her extremely traditional Chinese mother teaches her lessons and keeps a distance that hurts Amy. At the same time, the mother is someone who dared break up with Amy’s father and start anew with a Vintage shop –their life is hard and sometimes they don’t even have money for dinner. The emotionally fraught yet loving relationship between the two is possibly my favourite thing about Preloved and its development is very touching.
At one point Logan begs Amy: “help me become whole again”. If one interprets Logan to be a construct of Amy’s subconscious mind (which is a very possible interpretation), then this request makes perfect sense. Especially since there is also a second thread that incorporates the idea of reincarnation that fits brilliantly with the overall theme (“preloved”) of the book. This, and not Logan’s ghost, is places the book firmly into supernatural territory although the supernatural thread is not one that overwhelms or overtakes the story.
Further to that, there are loads of small details that serve to enrich the story. Like Amy’s mom’s attachment to a stuffed owl. Or Amy’s relationship with her childhood friend Nancy. Or all the small snippets about ghosts, and of course, the 80s. The latter is in fact, an intrinsic part of the narrative. Not only on how Amy and her mother have a shared love for 80s movies and clothes and how Logan’s ghost is trapped in that decade but also in the very way that the story is written. Preloved is very cinematic: at times it feels like an Indie movie but most of all it reads like one of those 80s comedies ( I kept thinking of Mannequin for some reason).
That said, I did feel slightly put off at times by Amy’s thoughts about Rebecca, who was supposed to be her best friend. I thought Rebecca was unjustly demonised for her beauty but this is addressed by the narrative at least twice. Once when Nancy point-blank calls Amy on that. And then in the ending as Amy is taking toll of her life.
Another thing I loved about Preloved is how Amy is definitely a good person but one who also feels anger and petty jealousy. I tend to really love characters that are allowed to feel righteous anger – who are not asked to calm down, shut the fuck up or bottle it all up i.e. to play nice. Amy has reasons to be angry especially toward her dad – who disappeared from her life, leaving her and her mother all but penniless whilst he lives a rich life. I love this sentence:
"I shook it off and kept walking, indignant, hoarding up all my black feelings and enjoying them one by one, like individually wrapped dark chocolates"
I picked up Preloved because I loved this author’s previous book Fury. I was completely surprised by how the two stories are so completely different in terms of tone and narrative construction whilst still sharing similar themes (identity, friendship, loyalty).
And I really, really love how, just like Fury, Preloved has an open ending. I find that I appreciate this author’s ideas and stories although I don’t think they will suit everybody equally – especially Preloved with its zany feel (inconceivable as it is). But that’s the beauty of reading: you find an author whose work speaks to you and that’s it. Twue wuv ensues. ...more
Evelyn Pomeroy is a small town girl from the village of Maudley in the kingdom of Pylandrian - but she has biOriginally Reviewed on The Book Smugglers
Evelyn Pomeroy is a small town girl from the village of Maudley in the kingdom of Pylandrian - but she has big dreams. It has been her greatest hope and dream to leave Maudley to attend university in the kingdom capitol and become a healer, though the likelihood of her ever attaining that dream is a slim and distant thing indeed. When the announcement makes it to town that the King himself will be visiting to partake in the local festivities, however, Evie's prospects change drastically - especially when the King shows up with a grievously ill Secretary of the Exchequer that needs immediate medical aid, and Evie is the only capable healer around. Winning the King's favor and the promise of tuition and board at the university, Evie sets out on the journey of a lifetime from Maudley to the city capitol, escorted by her best friend Prissy and her next door neighbor and dear friend Aidan. On the road to university, however, Evie and her caravan run into desperate trouble - a highwayman holds up their coach, stealing their goods and killing their driver. Aidan and Evie press on to the capitol, but more isfortune befalls them as they take to sea and are caught in a violent storm.
But it is here, on the high seas, the Evie discovers her true mettle - here that she learns just who she is, what power she wields, and the destiny that lies before her. Caught up in a royal wedding, plots and double-crosses, and an ancient heritage, Evie's path is fraught with danger - but with the guidance of her own heart, and help from those friends and family loyal and true, she will find a place in this strange new world.
Guys. GUYS. I loved this book so very much. I am prefacing this part of the review with an apology - I apologize, because this is going to be one giant love-fest for Julie Berry's beautiful book. When I started Secondhand Charm, I was desperate for a good fantasy read that would restore my faith in the YA, fairytale-ish subgenre (coming off of two very, very bad misses with Snow White and the Huntsman and Kill Me Softly) - I wasn't expecting to be swept off of my feet. But swept off my feet I was, thanks to Julie Berry's beautiful, masterful, Shannon Hale-esque YA fantasy. Secondhand Charm is a sweeping adventure, a coming of age tale, and a novel about romance and magic. Immediately, I fell in love with Julie Berry's writing style, which is evocative and reminiscent of the Books of Bayern - in fact, Secondhand Charm reminds me of The Goose Girl (thought I think heroine Evelyn is far more Enna than Ani).
On that note, the reason why the novel soars is because of the defiant strength of its heroine. I absolutely adored Evie, a heroine that knows what she wants and manages to stay true to herself and her beliefs, even when making the right choices are so very hard. It's also incredibly refreshing to see a heroine that doesn't take any crap, who gets annoyed with cryptic answers and what she perceives of as hokum/superstition (she is an aspiring scientist, after all), and who desperately tries to do what is right instead of what is easy.
Beyond the heroine, I loved the actual magic of the novel, the idea of Serpentinas, the fact that all of these things I'm saying about magic and serpentinas is actually a mystery until you read it happening (and I won't divulge because I LOVE that for once there is a blurb that doesn't give away the meat and potatoes of the story!). Ok, ok, one more slight divulgence - I love the relationship between Evie and her leviathan, and how their lives and fates are so intertwined. But that is all I will say of the matter, because theirs is a story that deserves to be discovered as a pure surprise.
Regarding the actual plot and other characters, I found myself similarly enamored. The story proper focuses on Evelyn and her adventure to find herself and her heart's true desire, but along the way there are many others involved and plots afoot - from her humble plans to secure an education, there's magic, an ancient inheritance, a sinister plot to overthrow a kingdom, and friends lost and found. I loved the relationship that unfolds between Evelyn and her new mentor and friend, the gregarious foreign princess Annalise.
And, of course, there's a romance too. One that is firmly on the backburner to the larger story, but so very well executed. I loved the love story.
What else can I say? I loved Secondhand Charm unequivocally, and it will certainly be on my list of notable reads of the year (if it were published in 2012, it could make my list of favorites). Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended - and now I'll have to check out Julie Berry's debut novel The Amaranth Enchantment immediately....more
After cutting out her own heart and giving it to the darkangel Irrylath, Aeriel has not only found a way to sOriginally reviewed on The Book Smugglers
After cutting out her own heart and giving it to the darkangel Irrylath, Aeriel has not only found a way to save her world from the clutches of the White Witch and her seven icari, but she has also found a way to save Irrylath's soul. After breaking the curse on her new bridegroom, Aeriel and Irrylath make their way to Isternes, the childhood home of Irrylath, before he was treacherously traded away to the White Witch by his nursemaid Dirna for life and power. Here, Irrylath finds his true mother, his brothers, and his birthright as the eldest son and heir to the land - but though he and Aeriel are welcomed with open arms by his Esternese kin, their struggles remain.
Irrylath remains plagued by terrible dreams and withdraws from Aeriel's touch and compassion - and Aeriel learns that her husband, in name if not in truth, still is snared by the hook of the White Witch. If she is to save him - and to truly save her world from the Witch, who even now searches for a new babe to make into a darkangel - Aeriel must embark on a dangerous quest, and solve an ancient, hidden riddle.
A Gathering of Gargoyles continues the story of a brave young woman named Aeriel, who has inexplicably become the one person that can stand against an evil that threatens to consumer her world. And, dear readers, I loved this book so very much. I must start this review properly by thanking the lovely Megan no h for her emphatic recommendation, because A Gathering of Gargoyles is truly and utterly awesome. It is in fact a better novel than The Darkangel; The Empire Strikes Back to the first novel's Star Wars. I know that science fiction analogy may seem at first blush NOT to make sense with this trilogy, but in actuality it has far more resonance than one might suspect - because A Gathering of Gargoyles makes it abundantly clear that this series is actually one rooted in science fiction. Aeriel's world, as it becomes known in A Gathering of Gargoyles, is actually our moon; a "daymonth" to Aeriel and her fellow creatures, is the equivalent to a lunar day, with the constant companion of the Earth, or "Oceanus" to Aeriel, shining its pale blue light upon the moon's surface. Unlike our current moon, though, Aeriel's world is a place of impossible, fantastical life - in which there are seas of dust hiding moonwhales and serpents, with deserts and forests, gargoyles and lons.
This is the most impressive thing about this trilogy, and A Gathering of Gargoyles in particular - the incredible scope of imagination. To be sure, this is a fantasy novel with magical creatures and gifts, but the story never once feels tired or familiar because of the magic of Ms. Pierce's prose and the wildly imaginative setting. Reading A Gathering of Gargoyles is almost like being in a dream - things are strange and ever-shifting, but you never really feel confused or lost, because it is your dream, and impossible things are accepted as a matter of course.
From a pure story perspective, the actual plot of the novel is fairly simple - Aeriel leaves Isternes to find the lost lons, so that Irrylath's brothers can ride them into battle against the White Witch - and her journey takes her to the edges of the world. In truth, the story is about Aeriel as she discovers who she is, what she is truly capable of, and how far she will go to stop the Witch and win Irrylath's heart. The riddle - actually more of a prophecy - that sparks her journey lies at the heart of the book, and I love that its meaning changes as Aeriel's self-awareness grows.
For all that she is risking everything for Irrylath, this is truly Aeriel's story, and I loved every last second of it. I loved following Aeriel from Isternes, across the Sea-of-Dust, to singing for her sup and on the run from bandits, to the desperate land of Pirs and the terrible truth of its ruler, to eventually back in her own home of Terrain. On each leg of her far journey, Aeriel learns a new truth, gathering Irrylath's former gargoyle guards along the way. My main complaint for The Darkangel was Aeriel's lack of oomph, and her utter, unflinching goodness. While she is still unerringly moral and good in A Gathering of Gargoyles, this book shows us glimpses of her vulnerability. She falls for the tricks of a false king and a hag; she shows her frustration when all her work seems to have gone to waste. And, most touchingly, we feel her heart breaking as she realizes the truth of Irrylath and that he does not love her.
This volume ends on a sweet note, with the promise of even more fantastic adventure and peril ahead - the trilogy must close with Aeriel and Irrylath's confrontation of the White Witch, and I cannot wait to find out how it all ends.
If you haven't read this gem of a series before, I implore you to find a used copy and start. Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended, and one of my most cherished finds of the year. ...more
And now for something completely different as I try to write my first review of a memoir.
Oksana was 15 when her parents decided to leave Russia (just before the USSR was dissolved) for America in search of a better life. Although they were rather affluent people, they were treated like second class citizens back home due to their part-Gypsy ancestry. Oksana’s parents were part of a touring band: the father a gifted Roma musician and the mother an accomplished band manager from Armenia. When the family moves to the US, they hope to leave all problems behind and start anew in the land of opportunity. Unfortunately things are not that easy and theirs plans don’t go as smoothly as they hope. There is the language barrier to start with not to mention all the cultural baggage they brought along.
Conflicts follow them to America: her mother’s alcoholism, her father’s propensity to cheat, their different nationalities and backgrounds still a source of problem. And Oksana stands in the middle: the only one who speaks a little of English, a child of different cultures, a supposed soviet in the middle of capitalist America and a girl trying to find her own identity in the middle of all this chaos.
If qualifications are necessary at all, I would call this a Young Adult memoir as it is framed and limited by Oksana’s high school years. The memoir starts when she is fifteen and stops as she is about to go to college – it often goes back in time to early childhood but rarely if ever do we get to see a glimpse of Oksana’s older years.
I chose to read American Gypsy for a number of reasons: I liked the idea of venturing into memoir territory, a new thing for me. I feel like it is impossible to write this review of a very personal story without making it personal too – it is as though after having received what I consider to be a gift from the author, I just have to return it by speaking a bit about myself. I chose to read this memoir in particular because 1) it was offered to me and 2) it sounded interesting. The former only made it easy. The latter because just like the author, I am too an immigrant (from Brazil to England) and wanted to hear about her experience. And as it just so happens, I have always been fascinated by not only Russia (and especially how so many different cultures and peoples were brought together under one rule) but also by Gypsies. In Brazil, we have this fascination for Gypsies: I remember when my mother used to take me to a “Gypsy” store and buy me flowery “Gypsy” clothes.“Gypsy” is also a very common Carnaval costume and I dressed up with long skirt, huge earrings and dangling bracelets more than once.
Of course now I know, this is all embarrassingly stereotypical bulshit and tremendously offensive: we obviously knew absolutely nothing about the Romani people and more often than not, most people don’t either. Which is a point that comes brilliantly across when reading American Gypsy as Oksana navigates the assumptions and prejudices that her people suffer. To the point where, to start with, she doesn’t even admit that she is Gypsy.
That said, this book is much more than the exploration of the macro-cosmos of a culture backdrop – as a memoir, it is more about Oksana and how her life progresses as she moves to America. As a teenager, she is often trapped by her parents’ wants and desires for her. She had to navigate the waters of a traditional Romani father who has certain expectations about what a girl, a daughter should or rather; could accomplish. It is heartbreaking to read about how Oksana felt the need to earn her father’s admiration for what she could do as an accomplished musician herself. The conflict between learned tradition and obvious desire for change and progress is not an easy one to solve and this memoir was great at showing that. This story follows Oksana as she tries to find a place for herself fighting a cultural assimilation that clashes with her family’s past (whose outlandish stories she is proud to share) and trying to find a measure of individualisation in the midst of such strong traditions.
American Gypsy actually reads like a novel and at times I forgot I was reading about real people – and it is weird and a bit funny for me to be saying this because of how many times I’ve said the opposite about a novel (“it was so good I felt the characters were real people”). There is a lot of dialogue, and outlandish, funny adventures as well as some heartbreak and serious moments.
At the risk of sounding trite: I loved reading American Gypsy. It is extremely well-written, gripping and I couldn’t put it down. I loved reading about Oksana’s story: her path to individualism and independence; her troubled relationship with her parents, a relationship of love but one with charged expectations about her gender – in that sense, this book is also a great feminist read.
More than that, from a very personal and self-centred strand-point, I loved this from a ContempYA perspective. I have gotten used to reading these fictional stories about identity and fitting in and it is really interesting to read a real story of a teenager who has the same problems I usually read about in YA. In that sense, reading this book helps me reading ContempYA – from a reviewer point of view. But above all, I loved her voice, I loved the cultural differences explored in the book, I loved Oksana’s strive for independence and I am so glad I gave the book a shot. ...more