The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

Cover image for The Reader
Cover image for The Reader

This is perhaps one of the most unique adventure stories I’ve read it a long time. I really admire how authors can still come up with interesting and different frameworks for the same themes and tropes. Though we seem to read the same story a thousand times, creative and talented writers make it so we never notice that’s what’s happening. Traci Chee is one of those authors.

“Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her Aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book–a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed–and punish the people responsible.” —Indiebound

Books in which literacy is not common, or in which it’s repressed and discouraged, or in which books are banned–these are common things. A book in which books, or even written language as we know it, do not exist? That’s something new. One imagines you’d have to completely recreate the fabric (dare I say meaning?) of your fictional society to make it work. Of course, in this novel, books and reading do exist, but in secret. There is only one place in the whole world (that we know of so far), where books exist and people know how to read. And then, there are only a few people who know how to read (under ten, as far as I can tell). I love this premise, especially because it makes books the focal point of the story, and emphasizes their value.

The book that Sefia carries is a very special book–one that people are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on. As the novel progresses, the readers themselves begin to realize what the book contains and how very precious it is. There are several different storylines that occur in the novel, and all of them slowly come together for a couple of very cool moments in which the reader realizes just how skillfully a web is woven with the different threads of plot.

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This novel is full of a lot of really fun characters that I enjoyed getting to know. I wish Sefia weren’t so sad, but she’s had a hard life, and her reluctance to trust and allow herself to love are both understandable. She’s tough, but she’s scared. Everyone she’s ever loved has been taken from her, and that plays big in how she interacts with other people. Archer, if possible, is even more messed up than Sefia. His life not only includes loss but also abduction and being forced to commit violent acts. When they meet and for several weeks after, Archer cannot speak at all. Sefia and Archer develop a bond that goes beyond spoken language, communicating with signs, eye contact, and more. Their friendship is one that develops out of necessity but is not less enviable for it.

This book takes place on both land and sea, and I love all of the adventures of Captain Reed and his crew related in the Book. They venture to the western edge of the world and encounter numerous trials along the way. At first, their story seems completely out of context with Sefia and Archer’s journey, but once again the Book proves to be more than it seems. These guys were my personal favorite part of the book. Who doesn’t love a good piratey adventure?

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This is a great work of YA fiction for fans of adventure stories and fantasy. Chee’s world-building and character development are world-class, and I really look forward to the next installment of this series.

 

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.