Two YA books: One Good, One Terrible

Two YA books: One Good, One Terrible

One Good:

Crown Duel
Crown Duel

This novel, which is actually two shorter novels in one thick volume (Crown Duel and Court Duel), was one of my favorite books in high school. I remember being really influenced by these stories in my creative writing class in college, and in my romantic expectations.

“Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting–with wits and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.”–Indiebound

First of all, Meliara is great. She is probably one of the first badass girls I ever encountered within a novel (Alanna was probably the first). I’m pretty sure she’s a precursor to all of these “strong female characters” that people love to talk about. For a story that comes pretty close to a fairy tale, its protagonist blows through all of the expectations of what a royal woman is supposed to do. She was fighting in wars and saving the kingdom before everyone was doing it: the hipster countess.

I digress. The writing is rougher than I remember it being, but I still enjoyed it greatly. I love the characters, both good and bad, although the villains could be fleshed out a little better, I think. The story is gripping and engaging, and I think I devoured this sizable volume in just a day or two. The only thing that ruined it for me was the short story that’s included at the end. I felt like Mel is a completely different character in it than she is in the novels themselves. Where she’s fierce and confident in the novels, she seems cowed, insecure, and way more into girly stuff than usual in the story. I wasn’t a fan. If you read the novels, skip the story if you can resist.

One Terrible:

Magonia
Magonia

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I hated this book. I’m really surprised that I even finished. I was excited to read it because it’s physically beautiful (never judge a book by its cover) and Neil Gaiman endorsed it (thanks for letting me down, Neil). This story was terrible from start to finish.

“Maria Dahvana Headley’s soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy where Neil Gaiman’s Stardust meets John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in a story about a girl caught between two worlds . . . two races . . . and two destinies. Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak, to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name. Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world and found, by another. Magonia. Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power, but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?” Indiebound

Another comparison to big names like Gaiman and Green just to sell a title, but it’s lies, lies, lies. It comes nowhere close to either of the stories told by those masters. It’s murky and difficult to understand in the beginning. Aza’s illness is weird and unexplainable. It seems like it’s going to be another story about a disagreeable teenager with a terminal illness, like Side Effects May Vary. But then out of nowhere it becomes this really, REALLY strange fantasy novel. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t seem to know how to effectively blend a realistic story with fantasy, and the result is pathetic and brackish.

The element of fantasy in this world had the potential to be interesting, but this world of sky ships is populated by…wait for it…..anthropomorphic bird people. Shut up. Literally, the whole time I was reading it I was picturing this:

anthropomorphic bird people
anthropomorphic bird people

…and it was awful.

Please don’t read this book. The world is full of really great books. Skip this one and spend your time on one that’s worth it.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

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Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses is a pleasantly steamy novel loosely based on the Beauty & the Beast fairy tale we all known and love. I picked up this book without even reading the synopsis in the jacket because I love other books by this author so much I will read anything by her, sight unseen. What I love about Sarah J. is that her books are so reliable. Reliably difficult-to-put-down page-turners. I happened to have just started this book on a sick day, and, accompanied by tea and blankets, I read it for most of the day.

Soothing x10
Soothing x10

“When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin–one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin–and his world–forever.” –via Indiebound

Feyre and Tamlin are…fun. Let’s just get it out there right now: there is sex in this book. Not tweenie scenes with mostly implied contact followed by a nice change of subject. It’s detailed, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination, sexy sex. I enjoyed this. Most authors who write for teens know two things by now: teenagers have sex, and adults (who also have sex) read YA. This book was perfect for women (and men!) who don’t shy away from their enjoyment of sexuality in whatever way and however often they wish. If you are someone who prefers a somewhat tamer, less sexual way of life/library, I’d avoid this book. Or maybe try it, and see if it can change your mind! It’s up to you.

However, I’ve read some reviews that say this is little more than erotica. They are wrong. This is a novel with Story. Engaging, terrifying Story. It has some truly grotesque villains, and many moments that drive the reader to the edge of their seat. The reason the reader cares so much about the story has something to do with the heroine. Feyre is a girl the reader likes. Feyre is a girl who is relatable. I’m sure there is something of the reader’s self to find in her. Perhaps it’s her fierce dedication to her family. Perhaps it’s her feelings of isolation and of being taken for granted. Perhaps it’s her hopeless attraction to a faerie being that oozes sensuality. Whatever it is, there’s a little something of you, me, and everyone else in Feyre. Once her story really picks up and gets going (which is almost immediately; my girl Sarah J. doesn’t make you wait), the reader cares because, in some capacity, she is the reader.

The men in this book. THE MEN. The faerie men. The sleek, smooth-as-butter, perfect-features, fantasy men of this woman’s heretofore unknown fantasies. I loved them. It’s a buffet of supernatural men. I couldn’t decide if I liked Tamlin (the broody love-interest), Lucien (the comic yet tragic sidekick), or Rhysand (the absolutely delicious baddie) most. The best part is that you don’t have to, because each of them gets plenty of attention within the pages of the novel.

Perhaps the only thing that gave me pause is that there is a certain plot device that is just a little too specific, and therefore, a little too convenient to truly allow this reader to suspend her disbelief. It jolted me out of the world of this-is-actually-happening, and into the world of this-is-a-novel-with-an-author. It only lasts for a moment, and then the story re-engages, but for that moment it was a little sad.

Finally, Sarah J. builds a faerie world that at once respects folklore and gives it a new spin. There are few authors who successfully pull this off, and it makes me like and respect this author more for doing it. She includes lesser-known fae species. She includes an under-the-hill part of the faerie realm (very important!). She includes a vast variety of temperaments and personalities, from forces of good and compassion, to annoying and mischievous, to straight-up lethal and terrifying. Most importantly, she does it while remaining true to her own voice as an author, and without sounding or feeling contrived.

This is a very strong start to a new series, and a bit of a genre-bender. I think it’s safe to say that fans of her other novels will enjoy this one. For those who love fantasy, romance, or YA, this is a great pick for you, too!