The World of Leigh Bardugo

The World of Leigh Bardugo

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I read Shadow & Bone several weeks ago because I had a special $1.99 e-book deal on it come to my email. I had heard good things about it and wanted to read it anyway, but hadn’t given it a very high priority.

Holy. Shit.

Shadow & Bone is one of those books that reminded me why I continue to read YA books well into my adulthood. Leigh Bardugo is brilliant. In a genre heavily inundated with fantasy stories based on Celtic mythology and vampires, this author has constructed a world that is entirely new. With its strong themes of eastern-European nomenclature and mythology, yet possessing its own unique twists, I’ve never read a story like Shadow & Bone.

“Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life–a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.” –Indiebound

This book has everything you love about a YA novel. Danger, romance, a powerful female trying to find her own way separate from the men who would influence her. Darkness. Creepy creatures. Tragedy. Heartbreak. Betrayal. Nothing about this novel is predictable or boring. It kept me engaged from start to finish. When I finished this one, I had to read the rest of the series, too.

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The rest of the series was very strong, too. At the risk of giving away what happened in novel one, I won’t give synopses for two and three. Be satisfied knowing that I simply devoured this series and was completely obsessed. In fact, I wasn’t happy when it ended, and bought all of the short stories and novellas associated with the world in these novels.

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I love this series. I love everything about it. The plot. The characters. The setting. The darkness. The suspense. The intensity. The fearlessness of Bardugo’s writing. I highly recommend all of these novels. It never slows down. From start to finish, it is beautiful and intense, and I believe you will love it as much as I did.

The “Throne of Glass” Series

The “Throne of Glass” Series

Ladies and gents, readers of all ages, you have got to read the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas. If you’re a fan of fantasy, assassins, young adult books, or general female badassery, these books are for you.

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Throne of Glass begins the series and opens with Celaena Sardothien being pulled out of the mine where she’s been enslaved for a year as punishment for her crimes as her kingdom’s most notorious assassin. The King offers her a choice–compete for the title of King’s Champion against a score of nefarious opponents, or return to a life of slavery and die in the mines. Throughout the competition, oddly dark events occur around the castle that lead Celaena on a twisted trail of intrigue, danger, and potential rebellion.

This book is packed to the brim with action, wit, humor, emotion, and suspense. It’s one of the most magical, creative, and engaging novels I’ve read in a long time, and the series just gets better.

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Crown of Midnight is a punch in the gut. I remember a friend of mine reading it first, and she looked at me and said, “Courtney, just wait.” A few days later, I reached the part she was talking about and screamed out loud. Being a kind book reviewer, I’m not going to tell you what this novel is about, as that would spoil the end of the first. Be satisfied knowing that it has some new characters that are just as loveable (or hateable) as those in the first novel. Celaena is her usual self, which is to say: awesome.

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The end of Crown of Midnight left me breathless and I couldn’t wait to read Heir of Fire. Celaena’s journey takes a turn that I could not have possibly foreseen. I am so impressed with Maas’s ability to take her readers completely by surprise over and over and over again. Heir of Fire brings Celaena away from everyone and everything she knows, to a part of her world that the reader has never seen before. It’s beautiful and terrifying, and I think this may have been my favorite of the trilogy. I cannot wait to see what Celaena does next, in Queen of Shadows!

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The Assassin’s Blade is a prequel collection of novellas that tell the story of how Celaena became the fierce and gifted assassin she is, and how she was betrayed and enslaved in the mine where Throne of Glass began. This book absolutely broke my heart. For such a young girl, Celaena endures and feels so much. She is a master of her art, and yet at heart she is just a teenager who, in addition to the unique problems associated with her profession, experiences the growing pains of becoming an adult human being.

In all, this is an incredible, beautiful series that I absolutely love. I tore through these before I left for Peru, and I will be purchasing Queen of Shadows as soon as it is released on September 1.

Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series

Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland Series

I am reading like a maniac, trying to get through as many of my books as possible before I have to leave them all at my mother’s house while I traipse off to Peru for a while. I can’t take them with me, so I’m spending time with them, much as I’m spending time with my dog and my friends. All things I’m having to say goodbye to for a few months or years.

My most recent project is getting through all four of Catherynne M. Valente’s Fairyland books that are out. I don’t know if there will be more. I have not reached the end of the fourth book.

I raved about the first book, once upon a time. You can read about The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making here. It still holds up as one of my favorite books for middle-grade readers. It is a lovely work with so much spunk–a modern fairy tale founded in classic folklore. In this post, I am talking up books 2-4.

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Book 2: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Am I the only one who loves these excessively long titles? I love it when I recommend these books to people and they always get a bit of a shock at how long the titles are. That’s sort of how these books are from start to finish. The plot of this novel arises from something that happens in the first book. It is a somewhat small event, one that ultimately gets lost among all the adventures September has throughout Circumnavigated. Upon her return to Fairyland in the second book, however, she realizes that what she thought was nothing is actually a very big something.

The characters in this one are a little different from those in the first. September once again meets Saturday and A-through-L, but there’s something different about them…There is also a whole new set of adventures and cast of characters that September meets. Her foe, Halloween the Hollow Queen, leads the shadows of Fairyland-Below. From the sound of it, she is actually a good queen, and her subjects love her very much, but she is causing trouble for Fairyland-Above, and September simply can’t let that happen. September herself is thirteen years old in this book, with a brand new heart that has her feeling all sorts of complicated things she doesn’t understand. It makes for a very confusing adventure for September, but it is one which I’m sure readers will enjoy as much as the first. She handles the transition into the teen years with grace and courage.

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Book 3: The Girl Who Soared Above Fairyland and Cut the Moon In Two takes place entirely on the Moon! It is not the Moon we know, however. It is made of pearl and is home to all sorts of fabulous and diverse sea life. A yeti has the residents of the Moon living in fear, and September must do her best to stop his nefarious plot. On top of the yeti problem, September discovers that A-through-L has a bit of a curse on him, and must find away to save him before he disappears. There is also a beautiful little element of romance in this novel, between now 14-year-old September and one of her Fairyland cohorts. In this book more than any of the others, I think, Valente plays with the concepts of space, distance, and time, and with the way we perceive them. Several characters appear to September and her questing party from various other points in their timeline. It is mind-bending and fun.

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Book 4: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland. I haven’t finished this one yet, so I can’t tell you a lot about it. I can say that it follows a different character than the previous three (though I believe September will appear eventually)–Hawthorn, a young troll who is swept out of Fairyland and into Chicago as a Changeling by the Red Wind. Once there, settled with a nice, Normal family, he does not remember why he feels so different. And different he is. At six he can write beautiful calligraphy, and knows words quite beyond the vocabulary of a normal six-year-old. He destroys his toys because he feels that they should talk to them, and they do not. He also believes that he is actually a wombat and a warrior. Those of us familiar with folklore know that the lives of Changelings are often unpleasant, and this one seems to continue that theory, though in a much less cruel and miserable way.  Poor Hawthorn is just very confused, and he must learn how to become a Normal human, when in truth he is anything but. From page one the novel displays heart and a robust love of humor, lore, and story. Valente’s characterization is once more picture perfect. I really just love this author. I love that she’s doing something a little different with novel 4, and that she is completely, unabashedly true to her style and her world.

I highly recommend this whole series for readers of all ages. Fans of Lewis Carroll and Lemony Snicket, I think, will enjoy these sometimes-dark and always-whimsical novels.

 

13.23–Fuse

13.23–Fuse

Fuse is the sequel to Pure, and is perhaps even more thrilling than the first book. In it, Partridge, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, and Lyda are rocketed on separate quests to save their incredibly flawed world.  More secrets about the evils of the Dome are revealed, and the reader’s hunger for justice grows as it grows within the characters.

There was so much about this book that I loved.  One of the things that stuck out the most to me was the development of the relationships between the characters.  Pressia and Bradwell learn how to navigate their complicated feelings for one another–their love mixed with the fierce desire to protect one another by denying their mutual feelings.  Lyda and Partridge explore the feelings they never got to admit to each other when they were inside the Dome.  Even El Capitan and his brother Helmud start to build a relationship–one that consists of more than mutual hatred for their nearly unbearable situation.  Helmud begins to show a personality of his own, and as twisted as it is, their relationship is a little bit heartwarming.

The plot was strong in this one.  I was constantly kept in the grip of suspense.  Because she did such a good job of establishing relationships between the characters, and of establishing the reader’s affections for those relationships, the strain and danger she puts them through is really emotionally taxing on the reader.  Partridge and Lyda, especially, separated by forces much more powerful than they are, keep the reader guessing about what will happen to their budding love.

Julianna Baggott has created a very strong second novel for her trilogy.  It did not feel like a filler, as second novels often do.  I was very impressed with her ability to make it feel like it’s own story.  That said, I really cannot wait for the third one to come out, though I know it won’t be for a long time.  Her world-building and storytelling are skillful enough that I’m dying to know what happens in the end! Too bad there isn’t even a publication date yet.  The good news is that gives you (the people who haven’t picked up and read both of them yet) the time to get caught up and breathlessly await the conclusion to the series!


13.15–Anna Karenina

13.15–Anna Karenina

Sadly, I read the movie edition. It’s what the library had.

I did it!! I made it through a Russian novel! And believe me, I am definitely patting myself on the back.  I’ve never been able to make it through a Russian novel before (much too long and rambling, and too many names!), but while Anna Karenina had the same elements that make me dislike every other Russian novel, the story was enough to redeem it.

There is so much to this nearly-thousand-page novel that it is difficult to cram it all into one blog.  There are two main stories (and countless little side-shows) that occur over the course of the novel–the messy drama between Anna, her husband Karenin, and Count Vronky; and the story of Kitty and Levin.  It is interesting that the novel is named after Anna because there are a great many characters that feature prominently, and perhaps even make more appearances than Anna does.  In fact, Anna’s story is the most interesting, and I wish that Tolstoy had spent more time on her and paid less attention to Russian politics, agriculture, and peasantry.  It’s an interesting glimpse into the time period, but seems completely unnecessary (and totally boring).

The novel tells the story of Anna’s doomed love affair with Count Vronsky.  She is married to Karenin, but falls in love with Vronsky almost the moment they meet.  I was surprised at how quickly the events moved in their story line.  I expected the subterfuge to last longer, I suppose because it was such a long novel, and I did not know that there was an entirely different story happening simultaneously.

Where one story is tragic–that of Anna and Vronsky, a family torn asunder, a woman driven to madness by jealousy and insecurity–the story of Kitty and Levin is almost fairy-tale-esque in nature and seems to suggest that by “following the rules,” so to speak, of society and religion, one may find happiness, contentment, and security.  I will say that Kitty was perhaps the most enjoyable character of the novel for me.  She is kind and sweet, though she’s often given to fits of womanly airs.  Anna, however, becomes more and more disagreeable as the novel progresses.  I’d say that the reader feels pity for her, but it is difficult to like her. And even by the end, my pity had evaporated as I became increasingly more irritated with her digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole.  And yet…

Tolstoy has a way of capturing the nuances of life that other authors seem to gloss over.  He has an eye and attention to detail that at times can be tedious but, more often than not, is quite interesting.  More than once I found myself thinking about a characters actions, I do that too!  It is fascinating to read about the subtleties of your own character in a book over a hundred years old.  In Anna, I saw a little of myself.  She often reminded me of myself in high school, when I too felt that panicky feeling in my gut at the idea of losing the person I (thought I) loved.  She seems to live in constant fear that Vronsky is falling out of love with her; is seeing other women; is mocking her in his face and tone of voice.  I recognize that fear and madness in myself, and it was quite a disturbing mirror.  I can’t say I enjoyed the feeling, but it was impressive the way that Tolstoy is able to capture the emotions of a woman so well.  And somehow, it is comforting to know that I’m not the only woman who felt this way.

I confess, only parts of the novel held my attention.  Especially in Levin’s parts, I found my eyes glazing over, and I realized I had gone through a page or two without registering anything that had been said.  And I was strangely okay with this, because it didn’t detract from the story at all.  I say, don’t feel guilty for skimming.

The story is worth reading, for sure.  It is a classic, and with Tolstoy’s eye for detail when it comes to minute human traits, it is easy to understand why.  Though the politics and technologies of the book are now long out-dated, the themes, events, and feelings are things that could very well happen today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the future.  It’s a novel that takes several different views at what it is like the be a human in any stage of love, and it’s quite beautiful.  I definitely recommend reading this book to the very end.

I’ve heard from numerous sources that this is the translation closest to the original Russian. READ THIS TRANSLATION.


12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

12.33–Days of Blood and Starlight

Laini Taylor does it again! I was hesitant about Days of Blood and Starlight because I didn’t like the way it began. I was really nervous about the theme of the book.  Where Daughter of Smoke and Bone is extremely romantic, Blood and Starlight is all about war.  It’s tough to read, absolutely fraught with emotion, and it’s definitely a nail biter.

For character, Taylor delivers.  Karou unfolds further as a character with untold layers.  It is so easy for the reader to get invested in her.  In this installment, she comes dangerously close to being broken and defeated, but pulls through to find her true self, ten times stronger and more passionate before.  With her people threatened like never before, she must stand against all the forces allied against her–forces she finds in unexpected places.  Her friend Zuzana is as irrepressible and hilarious as usual.  Her recently-acquired boyfriend adds a new element to her hilarity as well. Their banter is some of the best (and only) comic relief in this extremely heavy, war-torn novel.  And Taylor has brewed up a whole new cast of baddies for the reader to hate.  Taylor is a masterful creator of characters, and this novel is no exception.  Can someone please turn me into Karou? Give me some of her spunk? Thanks :)

For plot, I still can’t say much, because I don’t want to give anything away about this book or Smoke and Bone.  I’ll just say that it kept me on the brink of a lot of things the whole time: screaming, crying, throwing things, pulling out my hair, laughing hysterically in public, etc.  In addition to a stunning ability to create engaging characters, Taylor then sticks those characters in situations for which the reader can’t possibly dream up solutions.  She is constantly taking her reader by surprise and giving them new reasons to turn the page.

There is no end to the things I could say about Laini Taylor.  I really haven’t encountered a series I’ve felt this passionate about or affected by since The Hunger Games.  Once again, I can’t recommend this series highly enough.  I encourage everyone who doesn’t have this on their TBR list to get it on there, and those who do have it to bump it to the top. Now.

12.28–Wicked

12.28–Wicked

I revisited this one because it’s been quite a long time since I read it.  I remember sincerely loving the book, and marveling at the darkness with which Maguire writes. By the way, how gorgeous is this cover? Mine doesn’t look that good. Mine looks like this:

Not as pretty

Anyway, I don’t know how many people have read this novel, since it’s been out for years.  For those who haven’t, it tells the story of Elphaba, who is more familiar to fans of The Wizard of Oz under her identity of the Wicked Witch of the West (which I will now refer to as WWW).  In this first novel of Maguire’s, he gives the reader the backstory of the WWW, from her humble beginnings in the country of Munchkinland to her college years at Shiz to her rebellious youth in the Emerald City.  From the novel, the reader learns that Elphaba, or WWW, is not the evil villain we love to hate.  She has been misunderstood her whole life, ostracized because of her green skin, and villainized because she disagrees vocally with the Wizard’s politics.  By the time she meets Dorothy (in part four of the novel), she is middle-aged and beaten down, having suffered a lifetime of loss after loss.

I remembered virtually nothing about this novel.  In my mind it got confused with the musical, which I’ve seen twice.

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Because I’d forgotten the novel, I was amazed by how different the two stories are.  For one thing, the musical is optimistic. It is the touching tale of two friends that somehow manage to overcome obstacles to their friendship and also make changes for the good of Oz.  The novel, conversely, is not.  For one thing, Elphaba and Glinda do not stay friends the way they do in the musical.  There is a massive cast of characters that pass through Elphaba’s life, but their presence is always fleeting.  Maguire’s novel is also a lot more political.  There is the Wizard, who blew into Oz in a hot air balloon and deposed the reigning child queen, and who oppresses the people of Oz indiscriminately. Munchkins, Quadlings, Animals–all fall under the Wizard’s iron hand.  There is a religious group that closely resembles Christians, known as the unionists, who worship the Unnamed God and attempt with futility to convert people away from the “pleasure faith.”  In fact, Elphaba at one point joins a group that, if not extreme enough to merit the distinction of terrorists, come pretty darn close.  No, it certainly isn’t the Wizard of Oz that we know at love from novel and film.

Part of me really didn’t like reading it this time.  I still give it five stars, because it is masterfully written, is a great and engaging story, and is engrossingly creative.  But there is a hopelessness that dominates the tone of the novel, and sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to pick up such a downer.  The novel seems to hint that resistance to the status quo, to tyranny and oppression, and to evil itself, is a useless pursuit that should be abandoned so that one might have a happy life.  Maybe this is mostly true, as it seems like one person has little power to make change, but I didn’t want to read about it in every word of the novel!

Still, as I said, it is a masterful work.  Maguire has a very dry and sometimes offensive sense of humor, playing with things that one would not normally find amusing (for instance, senility in the elderly). His words are beautiful.  It is a novel that is effortlessly thoughtful, which forces the reader to contemplate their own complacency.  Maguire also creates wonderful characters.  Elphaba is, despite being prickly and somber, a character that the reader can love, though it may stem from pity.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, and it often goes wrong for her.  She is going against the whole of Oz, and one cannot help but admire her courage.  The other characters that come and go (Boq, Galinda, Fiyero, Sarima, Liir, Nessarose, and others) are, if not always fully rounded out, entertaining.  They complement each other well, and yet, simply by existing, create conflict between each other.  Their differing beliefs and ideals clash enough that very little outside strife would be necessary, though it often makes an appearance anyway.

I definitely think the novel has more value than the musical.  Don’t get me wrong. The musical is great–beautiful costumes and sets, catchy and sometimes moving songs, and an entertaining plot line.  But where the musical is fun, the novel is important.  It is a witty, dry, and entertaining commentary on the world in which we live today.  If you’re one of the last people in the world to read this novel, I recommend you get around to it soon!

Or she’ll get you