Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

Monday, September 16th, 2019

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

Little, Brown and Company, January 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in January 2018 from a library book.

Wow. Before reading this book, I’d read two children’s books with very clunky writing. Then I picked up The Cruel Prince at the library – the first published 2018 book I’ve read (instead of an advance reader copy) – and I was entranced, enthralled and pulled into the world.

I’m writing this review in 2018, before I’ve talked with anyone else about the book – so these opinions are entirely my own. I’m also not sure how much Newbery consideration I should give to a book so clearly written for young adults. The Newbery criteria say we’re looking at excellence in presentation for a child audience, and I’d say this book isn’t written for a child audience. But on the other hand, it then defines a “child” as someone between the ages of 0 and 14, and there are certainly 14-year-olds who will enjoy this book. Anyway, that’s something I’m going to ask about when our committee meets in February. Once I’ve gotten some more advice, I won’t discuss it in reviews.

Newbery consideration aside, one of the things that makes this book so wonderful to read is how completely Holly Black immerses the reader into the world of faerie. It’s a dark, dangerous, and scary world, but we feel like we understand what it’s like for Jude to live there.

The book opens with a Prologue – in which seven-year-old Jude sees both her parents killed by a tall man who comes to their door.

The man, Madoc, is a faerie. He tells her big sister Vivienne that he is her father. She was stolen from him, and he has come to take her to her true home, in Elfhame beneath the hill. He takes Jude and her twin sister Taryn as well. They are the children of his wife, so he takes responsibility for them. They are brought up in luxury – in Faerie.

Ten years later, Jude reflects:

The servants are overfond of telling me how fortunate I am, a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood, to be treated like a trueborn child of Faerie. They tell Taryn much the same thing.

I know it’s an honor to be raised alongside the Gentry’s own children. A terrifying honor, of which I will never be worthy.

It would be hard to forget it, with all the reminders I am given.

“Yes,” I say instead, because she is trying to be kind. “It’s great.”

Faeries can’t lie, so they tend to concentrate on words and ignore tone, especially if they haven’t lived among humans. Tatterfell gives me an approving nod, her eyes like two wet beads of jet, neither pupil nor iris visible. “Perhaps someone will ask for your hand and you’ll be made a permanent member of the High Court.”

“I want to win my place,” I tell her.

Jude wants to compete in the upcoming tournament and be chosen to be a knight. But the rivals in the tournament, faeries her own age, despise her for being mortal. And Madoc has other plans, forbidding her to become a knight.

But then she gets an offer to be a spy for one of the princes of Elfhame.

The High King has chosen to retire soon, and he has chosen Prince Dain to be his successor. But there are intrigues and plots unfolding around the succession, and Jude gets caught in the middle of it.

That’s the beginning – and my summary doesn’t do the intricacies of the plot justice.

This is the story of a teen girl coming of age and trying to make her way in a world where she is utterly foreign, seen as a different species. There’s lots of danger and lots of on-stage death – but the look at the world of faerie – which Jude is accustomed to – is fascinating and exotic and intriguing. As the story develops, Jude must not only find a place and gain some power, but she also needs to stay alive.

This is the first of a series, and the book ends at a frustrating point – but at a place where readers will be eager to read on as soon as they get the chance.

The romance seems clichéd. I’m sure she’s going to end up with the person she hates most at the start of the book – for no good reason except that they hate each other at the start. But the author succeeds in making him very interesting by the end of the book – so I can at least understand that Jude would be interested as well.

This book has an elaborately portrayed world. It has an intricate plot, with twists and surprises and dangers. The characters are complex. The theme of coming of age – even if you have to kill and lie to gain power – is the part that doesn’t seem suitable for a child audience. But teens are going to love it.

blackholly.com
LBYR.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier

Friday, September 13th, 2019

The Harp of Kings

by Juliet Marillier

Ace, 2019. 448 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/13/19, from my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com

I love Juliet Marillier’s novels so much! I was delighted when my preorder came in for this one. (A little less delighted when I discovered I’d preordered it twice.) I was even more delighted when I discovered the main characters were the children of Blackthorn and Grim – the main characters of her most recent trilogy, which began with Dreamer’s Pool. There’s a caption on the front: A Warrior Bards Novel, so I fondly hope it’s the start of another trilogy.

As the book begins, Liobhan (There’s a character list with pronunciation guide at the front – she’s LEE-vahn.) and her brother Brocc are training on Swan Island to be warriors. (If the reader has read the Sevenwaters books, they will know about Swan Island – though I didn’t remember any particular characters who were there.) Only a few of the trainees get selected to stay on the island as elite warriors and spies – and Liobhan wants nothing more, as does Dau, who has become her rival.

But then Liobhan and Brocc get selected for a special mission. In a nearby kingdom an important ritual object has gone missing, the Harp of Kings. It is needed if the royal heir, who has just come of age, is to be crowned at midsummer. However, the regent doesn’t want anyone to know it’s missing, which could cause unrest. Liobhan and Brocc are skilled musicians, so they will go to the kingdom as traveling minstrels with a leader from Swan Island, and seek to recover the harp.

Readers of Juliet Marillier’s other novels will not be at all surprised when druids are consulted and the Folk of the Otherworld get involved. There’s a wise woman who lives on the hillside outside the town who is very like Mistress Blackthorn.

The plot is interesting and otherworldly, but what makes these books so wonderful is the way the author pulls you into this ancient world and you believe that magic can happen.

Here’s a short section from Brocc’s perspective after they’ve gone on their mission:

We play for the household on our first night at court. With time so short, Archu thinks it best that we make our presence known straightaway, and what better opportunity than this? Everyone is gathered, from Prince Rodan and the regent down to serving folk, grooms, and a group of children under less than strict supervision. We choose pieces that are tried and trusty, those most popular with our audiences back home. While we sing and play I try to observe, as we’ve been taught, but it’s hard; my mind loses itself in the music. At a certain point, someone in the crowd asks for dancing, and folk move the tables and benches back to make space. So we give them a couple of reels, and then “Artagnan’s Leap,” which allows Liobhan to show off her talents on the whistle. The children love the jig; they try to clap in time, even though it gets quicker and quicker, and they perform their own version of the dance to the accompaniment of much giggling. Except for one, who sits very still, apart from the others, watching us with such concentration that it’s a little unnerving. When I smile in her direction, she turns her gaze away as if caught out in a misdemeanor.

This book does stand alone and come to a satisfying finish – but I still hope that more books will come soon. I want to read more about these people and this world.

julietmarillier.com
prh.com

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Review of Cinderella Liberator, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Cinderella Liberator

by Rebecca Solnit
with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Haymarket Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 10, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this is a marvelous retelling of Cinderella! Modifications have been made, with the result being a thing of delight even to the young feminist heart. No, Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince, but the prince gets a happy ending, as do the stepsisters. Everyone in the story gets to become their best selves.

She chose silhouettes done by Arthur Rackham in 1919 for the illustrations, which are exquisite and add to the fairy tale feeling – which is there all the way, even though the details are tuned to more modern sensibilities.

This is a story I’d love to read to an attentive audience. In fact, I will probably choose portions to read aloud when I’m doing booktalks in the local elementary schools. I’m going to quote here a few of the many passages that delighted me.

The beginning of Chapter 2, “Dresses and Horses”:

And then one day came the news that the king’s son, Prince Nevermind, was holding a great ball, which is what they called dance parties in those days. The stepmother made sure that Pearlita and Paloma were invited, and they spent days trying on clothes and ordering dressmakers to make them new dresses out of satin and velvet and glitter and planning how to put up their hair and stick it full of jewels and ornaments and artificial flowers.

Cinderella came upstairs to bring them some ginger cookies and saw all the piles of jewels and all the mirrors and all the fabric and all the fuss. Pearlita was doing her best to pile her hair as high as hair could go. She said that, surely, having the tallest hair in the world would make you the most beautiful woman, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest.

Paloma was sewing extra bows onto her dress, because she thought that, surely, having the fanciest dress in the world would make you the most beautiful woman in the world, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest. They weren’t very happy, because they were worried that someone might have higher hair or more bows than they did. Which, probably, someone did. Usually someone does.

But there isn’t actually a most beautiful person in the world, because there are so many kinds of beauty. Some people love roundness and softness, and other people love sharp edges and strong muscles. Some people like thick hair like a lion’s mane, and other people like thin hair that pours down like an inky waterfall, and some people love someone so much they forget what they look like. Some people think the night sky full of stars at midnight is the most beautiful thing imaginable, some people think it’s a forest in snow, and some people . . . Well, there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas about beauty. And love. When you love someone a lot, they just look like love.

This section comes after the ball:

The blue fairy godmother opened the door, and asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said Yes, and No, and It was very interesting to see all the fancy clothes and the fancy plates with fancy cakes and the fancy mirrors and the fancy lights. And then she said, It was even more interesting to see lizards become footwomen and mice become horses. The fairy godmother replied that true magic is to help each thing become its best and most free self, and then she asked the horses if they wanted to be horses.

Five of the horses said, in horse language, which fairy godmothers speak and most of us do not, that they loved running through the night and being afraid of nothing and bigger than almost everyone. The sixth horse said she’d had a lot of fun but she had mice children at home and wanted to get back to them. The fairy godmother nodded in understanding, and suddenly the sixth horse shrank, and lost its mane, and its shaggy tail became a pink tail with a fine fuzz like velvet. And there she was: a tiny gray mouse with pink feet, running back to her tinier pink children in the nest in the wall to tell them all about the enchantment that had made her a horse for a night.

And then the lizards said, in the quiet language of lizards, that nothing was better than being a lizard, being able to run up walls and to lie in the sun on warm days and to snap up flies in the garden and never worry about anything except owls and crows, and though they loved wearing silver satin, and going to parties, and they had been happy to help Cinderella, and they would tell all their lizard friends about it, they would rather be lizards again. And suddenly they were, running off toward the garden on their little lizard legs, trailing long lizard tails, the moon making the scales on their lean lizard bodies shine like silver.

If I copy out anything further in the story, I might give away too many crucial changes at the end, but I hope this gives you the idea. There’s an Afterword at the back that describes the author’s thoughts about the tale.

Here’s a retelling of Cinderella for our current times, and it is utterly delightful in every way.

haymarketbooks.org

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Review of A Curse So Dark and Lonely, by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

A Curse So Dark and Lonely

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2019. 484 pages.
Starred Review
Review written July 29, 2019, from a library book

A Curse So Dark and Lonely is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast,” but it’s an expansive retelling, only borrowing the barest outline of the fairy tale.

The book begins with a scene in the fantasy world of Emberfall, then a scene on the streets of Washington, DC. In Emberfall, we meet Rhen, a cursed prince. The only member of his guard left is the captain, Grey. His family, servants, and all the rest of his guard are dead, killed by the beast he becomes at the end of each season. The girl who was this season’s prospect for breaking the curse has fled, as all the rest before her. A new season is beginning, in a perpetual time loop.

In DC, Harper is a lookout for her brother Jake. He’s been coerced into doing bill collection work, to make up for what their father had owed and to try to afford medicine for their mother, who is dying of cancer. Jake is taking too long, but while Harper waits, she sees a man abducting a young woman. Even though she doesn’t want to attract attention, and even though she has a limp from her cerebral palsy, she can’t just let him do this right in front of her, so she attacks him with a rusty tire iron.

But he’s surprisingly good at defending himself. When Harper thinks he’s about to attack her in return, she ends up suddenly transported into a fantasy world. She’s not kindly disposed to the prince she meets, either. And she’s worried about her mother and brother. But when she tries to escape, it doesn’t take long to figure out that something magical is happening, since the world outside the castle grounds is covered in snow.

I wasn’t too impressed with the story as it began, but became more and more so as it continued. All the characters have lots of depth. Rhen isn’t just a shallow prince who’s won over by this girl. He’s actually learned much from his initial mistake and from the horror of knowing he’s killed his family. He’s taken steps to protect his people. Too bad the enchantress continues to return to torment him. In fact, she’s decided that Harper is his last chance.

Harper, too, is a character with depth. She has cerebral palsy, but doesn’t let that stop her. She does some learning during the course of the book. For one thing, she learns that impulsive promises she makes to the people of Emberfall will have consequences. I do like the way the author has thought of repercussions of the curse that aren’t in the original fairy tale. For example, a neighboring monarch is going to want to get a piece of the kingdom whose rulers seem to have disappeared.

There are some twists thrown into the ending – twists that are not resolved at all. I wish there’d been some evidence somewhere on the book jacket that this is only Book One. But the basic story of the fairy tale is indeed resolved in a satisfying way. I do want to know what happens next, though, so I’ll be watching for the sequel.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie

Friday, August 9th, 2019

The Raven Tower

by Ann Leckie

Orbit Books, 2019. 416 pages.
Starred Review
Review written August 9, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this book is amazing! I can’t expect anything traditional or stereotypical from Ann Leckie, but she still surprised me. I can tell you about the set-up, but not how everything comes together. Let me tell you that it does, and this book is well worth reading. This one’s fantasy, rather than the science fiction she’s written previously, but it breaks up expectations of the genre, just as her other books did with science fiction.

Here’s the first sentence:

I first saw you when you rode out of the forest, past the cluster of tall, bulge-eyed offering stakes that mark the edges of the forest, your horse at a walk.

At first, I thought this would be like The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin, and take the entire book to let you know who is speaking to whom. But we do find out fairly quickly that the person being addressed is Eolo, the aide to Lord Mowat, who is the heir to the Raven’s Lease. Eolo and Mowat have arrived from the southern defenses on an urgent summons because the Instrument had died. Eolo is a wonderful and resourceful character who is also a transgender man (which barely comes into the story, but I did enjoy the representation).

Then the one speaking begins telling his story and we learn he is a god, a god who lives in a large stone that began under the sea. The god’s story takes a long time to intersect with the Raven god. (There’s a nice touch that this god has a friend who is a god that inhabits mosquitoes, called Myriad. I can believe in that god!)

But all is not well at the Raven Tower. The Instrument (a physical raven) is dead, and the previous Lease, Mowat’s father, should have sacrificed himself to the Raven god while the next Instrument is in an egg. But the former Raven’s Lease was nowhere to be found. His brother Hibal, Mowat’s uncle, has taken the Lease’s bench, because it could not remain empty. Mowat is still the Heir to the Raven’s Lease.

But Mowat does not believe this story. His father would never have fled. His father was committed to make the sacrifice. There are many complications, complications with other nations, complications with expectations of the way the Raven god works that don’t seem to be met, and complications with schemers and plotters.

Behind it all, we also get the epic and centuries-long story of the life of the Strength and Patience of the Hill. What is this god’s place in all this?

And yes, we grow fond of both Eolo and the Strength and Patience of the Hill as the story unfolds.

I don’t dare say much more at all, but the story is woven wonderfully. Here is a fantasy tale with nothing typical about it.

annleckie.com
orbitbooks.net

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, by Jessica Townsend, read by Gemma Whelan

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Nevermoor

The Trials of Morrigan Crow

by Jessica Townsend
read by Gemma Whelan

Hachette Audio, 2017. 11 hours on 9 discs.
Starred Review
Review written July 1, 2019, from a library audiobook

Big thanks to my co-worker, Amanda Snow, for recommending this audiobook! I didn’t have time to read it while I was on the Newbery committee because the author is Australian (and therefore not eligible), but I’m so happy to make up for lost time.

Morrigan Crow was born on Eventide, which means she’s under a curse and bad luck for everyone she encounters. Her father has to pay constant claims for damages because Morrigan was around when something bad happened, so clearly it was her fault.

It also means that she will die the next time Eventide happens. So when it happens on her eleventh birthday, her family spends the day preparing for her death. Then a surprising stranger with a contract appears. His name is Jupiter North and he takes her into the “free state” of Nevermoor, outrunning the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow who want to track her down and kill her.

The trouble is, Morrigan’s presence in Nevermoor is illegal, and those in charge of border security plan to deport her. However, Jupiter has entered her into the trials to become a member of the Wundrous Society, along with hundreds of other children from whom only nine will be chosen. As long as Morrigan is in the trials, she’s under the protection of the Wundrous Society and can’t be deported.

And Nevermoor is full of wonders. There’s a Magnificat (a giant talking cat) who helps run the Hotel Deucalion where Morrigan now lives. Strange and magical things happen all the time.

But Morrigan must undergo four trials to get into the Wundrous Society, the fourth one being to display her talent. Jupiter refuses to tell her what her talent is. If she is not selected for the society, she will have to leave Nevermoor, and she’ll be killed by the Hunt of Smoke and Shadow, so the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The comparisons to the Harry Potter books are obvious, and normally I roll my eyes when people make that claim. But in this case, the comparison is actually not bad! Morrigan has discovered a magical world; she gains friends and companions as she explores the new world; and she must learn how it all works. There’s a sinister shadowy figure in the background and Morrigan has some sort of special calling, despite a wretched home life where she was not appreciated. Author Jessica Townsend even has an amazing imagination like J. K. Rowling and comes up with delightful magical details.

This book would make wonderful family listening. Great accents, lots of humor, and magical adventures! How could you go wrong?

lbyr.com
HachetteAudio.com

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Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Sign Off, by Stephen Savage

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Sign Off

by Stephen Savage

Beach Lane Books, 2019. 52 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 8, 2019, from a library book

Sign Off is simply fun. Kids notice signs, and this book imagines what the characters on the signs might be up to when we aren’t looking.

There are no words in this book. But one by one, we see classic signs. One night, the characters decide to come off their signs. Then they begin working together.

I appreciate the artist’s note at the beginning:

The signs in this book are the creation of a number of graphic artists, most notably Roger Cook of the design firm Cook and Shanosky Associates, who came up with the round-headed sign characters in the 1970s. Thank you to all of these artists, known and unknown, for making characters I’ve loved since childhood.

In this book, they truly are characters. My favorite page shows their expressions of joy after they’ve carried out their plan together.

This book will spark your child’s imagination. After reading it, don’t be surprised if they’re ready to tell you what the characters on the next sign you see like to do at night.

simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of The Fox on the Swing, by Evelina Diaciutè, illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Saturday, May 4th, 2019

The Fox on the Swing

by Evelina Diaciutè
illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite

Thames & Hudson, 2018. First published in the United Kingdom in 2018. Original edition published in Lithuania in 2016. 48 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Winner

This picture book is completely bizarre and utterly delightful at the same time. The creators are from Lithuania, and I guessed a European origin before I looked it up, but even in Lithuania, a boy living in a tree and making friends with a fox who swings on a swing about once a week has got to be somewhat unusual.

When I read this, I happened to be gathering books for a story time of Strange Picture Books. This particular book is a little too long to use in story time, but I would love to sit down and read it with a precocious child. And it fits the category. What Strange Picture Books have in common is completely bizarre details accepted as the matter-of-fact truth. There are no real cues to tell the reader that this situation is unusual except the child’s own knowledge of the world.

In this book, a boy named Paul lives in a very large tree with his father and mother. His father is a helicopter pilot, taking off from a platform at the top of the tree. His mother makes orange pottery. And every day, Paul goes to the bakery to get three fresh bread rolls. (Ah! That’s one thing that tipped me off this book is from Europe.)

What Paul liked best was to take the shortest route to the bakery and the long way home. Walking the same way twice was a little bit boring, after all.

Much of the charm in this book is in the details and the illustrations. Here’s what happens on the way home:

Paul always kept his eyes wide open as he walked home. He didn’t want to miss a thing. He saw strangely shaped stones, fascinating twisted roots, fancy birds that had escaped from the zoo, and puddles that glistened on the ground.

That page shows many birds holding signs that say things like, “No to zoos!” “No to cages!” “Free the birds!” “Parrots for peace!” “Freedom!” and “No, no no!”

But the thing that Paul liked most of all was the old swing in the park. Not to swing on himself, but because there was a fox who liked to curl up and sleep on the seat of the swing. Paul didn’t see her there every day. Maybe about once a week.

Then one day, the fox is swinging on the swing!

Then she stopped, sniffed at the air, looked Paul in the eye and said: “Being generous is like an ocean. Would you like to be a drop in that ocean?”

Paul didn’t understand, but he nodded anyway.

“Then give me one of your rolls,” the fox said.

So begins the friendship of Paul and the fox on the swing. The fox had a grandmother who was a wise old fox, and she likes to tell strange stories and give wise advice. Sometimes the fox would be in a bad mood, and sometimes she would not.

One day, when the fox was in a very good mood, she said, “The best thing to do is just keep on swinging.”

Then she explained that the happiest things in the world are orange.

“Happiness is a fox on a swing and a big orange orange!” she yelled as the swing carried her high into the sky. “Happiness is carrot cake, goldfish, marmalade, and trees in autumn!”

But alas! The time comes when Paul’s father tells him that “soon they would be moving to an even bigger city, where they would live in an even taller tree in an even bigger park. And he would fly an even bigger helicopter.”

So Paul must cope with having to leave his best friend.

But this is not really a book about dealing with loss. Because, after some time, things turn out very nice indeed.

This book reminds me of The Little Prince with its philosophy and childlike matter-of-factness about bizarre details. And a wise fox! It would be a delight to read this book with a child. (I’m sure they will notice many things in the illustrations.) And it certainly helps anyone who reads it notice things around them that bring happiness.

thamesandhudsonusa.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Spinning Silver, by Naomi Novik

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019

Spinning Silver

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2018. 466 pages.
Starred Review
2019 Alex Award Winner
Review written April 11, 2019, from a library book

Ahhhh, such a lovely book! I love reworked fairy tales, and this one only had the beginnings of an idea from one, but spun an intricate tale with a mythic feel.

Here’s how the book begins:

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the moneylender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. Then the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the moneylender’s in league with the devil, and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts. That’s not how they tell it, but I knew. My father was a moneylender, you see.

He wasn’t very good at it. If someone didn’t pay him back on time, he never so much as mentioned it to them. Only if our cupboards were really bare, or our shoes were falling off our feet, and my mother spoke quietly with him after I was in bed, then he’d go, unhappy, and knock on a few doors, and make it sound like an apology when he asked for some of what they owed. And if there was money in the house and someone asked to borrow, he hated to say no, even if we didn’t really have enough ourselves. So all his money, most of which had been my mother’s money, her dowry, stayed in other people’s houses. And everyone else liked it that way, even though they knew they ought to be ashamed of themselves, so they told the story often, even or especially when I could hear it.

But when things get desperate and her mother gets sick, the narrator, Meryam, decides to take on the duties of moneylender herself. She gets out her father’s ledgers and demands what is owed. And people pay her.

In fact, she’s so good at it, she gloats a little that she can turn silver into gold. And the king of the Staryk people hears her. Three times, he leaves her silver that she must turn into gold. If she doesn’t, she knows she’ll be destroyed. If she does – he’s going to marry her. And that is only the beginning of her troubles.

That is one of the three main threads in this book. Another involves the recipient of the jewelry she has made with the silver from the Staryk – jewelry that attracts a fire demon who is inhabiting the tsar, the tsar who needs a wife. The other thread involves a poor family who owes money to the moneylender. When he can’t pay it, Meryam takes the services of his daughter Wanda to pay off the debt. Wanda likes spending her days at the home of the moneylender more than staying at home.

All three young women are thought to be powerless in their world, and all three discover their power and their usefulness.

There’s plenty of magic in this story, with the Staryk prolonging winter, so crops fail and people die, and magical bridges between the Staryk world of ice and the sunlit world. And the plot twists and turns and what we mostly want is for these resourceful women to discover their power and be able to help the people they love.

Naomi Novik spins a magical and mesmerizing tale with threads within threads.

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Review of Gondra’s Treasure, by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Gondra’s Treasure

by Linda Sue Park
illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 2019. 40 pages.

This picture book is a delightful way to approach the topic of liminal spaces – being neither here nor there – trying to figure out where you belong if you come from a mixed-culture marriage. In this case, Gondra is a little dragon. Her mom is an Western Dragon, and her dad is an Eastern Dragon.

“In the West, dragons breathe fire,” Mom said.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” I asked.
“That’s what I said, when we first met,” Dad said. “In the East, dragons breathe mist.”

Mom shrugged. “Compared to fire, it seems . . . um . . . pretty boring.”
Dad frowned,. “What did you say?”
Mom cleared her throat and spoke loudly. “I said ‘pretty.’ Mist is pretty.”

We learn more about differences between dragons of the East and the West, including how they fly, how they look, where they live, and how they feel about treasure. And Gondra is proud to have some characteristics from each of her parents, but also to be entirely herself.

I like it when an author uses fantasy to present a situation many different readers can relate to, rather than looking at one specific human instance of a mixed marriage – they can see how a dragon mixed marriage relates to them.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Picture_Books/gondras_treasure.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?