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.

Queen of Shadows — THRONE OF GLASS SPOILERS

Queen of Shadows — THRONE OF GLASS SPOILERS

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Queen of Shadows was yet another brilliant installment in the Throne of Glass series. I can tell that Sarah J. Maas is building to a truly explosive finale in the final volume. I only hope it means that we don’t have to say goodbye to any major players we love. Knowing books, I fear this may be a vain hope, but I’ll keep hoping until I close the last page on the last book.

At this point, there really isn’t any way to write about this book and not spoil the previous books in the series, so if you haven’t read up until this book, STOP READING NOW.

“Everyone Celaena Sardothien loves has been taken from her. But she’s at last returned to the empire-for vengeance, to rescue her once-glorious kingdom, and to confront the shadows of her past…She has embraced her identity as Aelin Galathynius, Queen of Terrasen. But before she can reclaim her throne, she must fight. She will fight for her cousin, a warrior prepared to die just to see her again. She will fight for her friend, a young man trapped in an unspeakable prison. And she will fight for her people, enslaved to a brutal king and awaiting their lost queen’s triumphant return.

Celaena’s epic journey has captured the hearts and imaginations of millions across the globe. This fourth volume will hold readers rapt as Celaena’s story builds to a passionate, agonizing crescendo that might just shatter her world.”Indiebound

In Queen of Shadows, Celaena returns to Adarlan as her true self, and she is out for blood. It seems there is only so much abuse one young woman trained as a ruthless, deadly assassin can take before she snaps. This novel is just as emotionally charged as the rest of them, with perhaps a little more satisfying revenge than we have seen before. The story moves at a brutal pace, and I think my favorite part of this novel was the interesting alliances she forms to achieve her ends (and to replenish her depleted ranks of friends–it’s dangerous to get close to this girl.) The novel also takes some really interesting, surprising twists and turns, as we have come to expect from Maas. I was absolutely thrilled by the ending, and I cannot wait for the fifth book.

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However, there are some things I have my doubts about, too. Celaena’s thirst for violence seems unnecessarily high in this book. In this world so filled with brutality, violence, and killing already, it’s nice to read about an assassin who doesn’t necessarily enjoy her work. She shows compassion and spares those who do not deserve to die. The reader sees very little of that compassion here. In much the same way action movie “heroes” leave a trail of bodies in their wake, Celaena kills ruthlessly and indiscriminately. I realize that her victims are working for a tyrant and standing between her and what she wants, but this gives the impression that there are important humans, and unimportant “stock” humans who can be killed without remorse or second thoughts. Sadly, this is not true in reality, and it disturbed me how our noble heroine becomes so hell-bent on destruction and revenge that she forgets she values life and once despised killing.

Along the same lines, while I truly enjoyed reading Queen of Shadows, and I couldn’t put it down, I feel like I read an entirely different series. Celaena has become a completely different character from herself in Throne of Glass. The people she surrounds herself with are different. Even the lines between friends and enemies are blurred, and people we thought were firmly in the evil camp turn out to surprise Celaena and her biases. While I enjoyed the truly epic nature of the narrative, I almost miss the comparatively quaint simplicity of the first novel.

I know it seems as if I have more negative things to say than positive, but it’s not true! I don’t really want to give away the good stuff, though. For those who haven’t read it, but have read the rest of the series, I say: what’s wrong with you?! Get moving! This novel was mostly stuffed to the brim with really good things, and I really recommend finishing the 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.

Fell_Beneath

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.

Soared_Above

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.