Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of The Empty Grave, by Jonathan Stroud

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

The Empty Grave

Lockwood & Co. Book Five

by Jonathan Stroud

Disney Hyperion, 2017. 437 pages.
Starred Review

I finished The Empty Grave today, and with it the entire Lockwood & Co. series – and Yes! The series ends well. I can now officially say that from start to finish, this is one of the best children’s book series ever. These books make good family reading, since adults will enjoy them every bit as much. Children need to be old enough to be able to not be afraid of all the murderous ghosts (and murderous people). If your child doesn’t mind some severe spookiness, I highly recommend this series.

This series deals with an alternate reality England where there’s a “Problem” with ghosts roaming the countryside and haunting buildings and places where they died. These aren’t friendly ghosts – if they touch you, you’ll die. And only children can see them. Lucy, Lockwood, George, and Holly still have their independent agency for dealing with ghosts – but powerful forces are ready to put them out of business – or perhaps simply kill them.

In this final installment, all the threads come together. Can the smallest agency in London expose what’s at the root of the Problem? Or will they be silenced? We’re told at the beginning of this book that Lucy survives. But will any of her friends survive with her?

I really mustn’t say any more about the plot. Yes, this is a series you should read from the beginning – It’s brilliantly crafted, with important pieces revealed at just the right time. In this book, it all comes together in a satisfying, and very suspenseful, way.

Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus series is brilliant – but Lockwood & Co. goes far beyond it. You come to care about all the characters deeply (even George!) and to understand the complex situation and all that’s at stake. This series is magnificent! Read it!

LockwoodandCo.com
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DisneyBooks.com

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Source: This review is based on my own copy, preordered via Amazon.com.

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 Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

by Patrick Rothfuss
illustrated by Nate Taylor

DAW Books, 2014. 159 pages.

This book is set in the world of Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle, a short tale of Auri, a mysterious girl who lives deep under the University in dark passages.

In the Author’s Foreword he tells you right up front this isn’t the best introduction to his worlds, and includes other reasons you might not want to read it.

I think it’s only fair to warn you that this is a bit of a strange story. I don’t go in for spoilers, but suffice to say that this one is . . . different. It doesn’t do a lot of the things a classic story is supposed to do. And if you’re looking for a continuation of Kvothe’s storyline, you’re not going to find it here.

On the other hand, if you’d like to learn more about Auri, this story has a lot to offer. If you love words and mysteries and secrets. If you’re curious about the Underthing and alchemy. If you want to know more about the hidden turnings of my world. . . .

Well, then this book might be for you.

He said it! Patrick Rothfuss’s astonishing ability to write beautiful language is still evident in this book — but this isn’t where you’ll see his ability to craft a plot.

But if you already love his world, here’s an opportunity to spend some time there, and to get inside the mind of the mysterious and broken Auri as she goes about her interesting hidden world, putting things in their proper places.

patrickrothfuss.com
dawbooks.com

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Review of Journey Across the Hidden Islands, by Sarah Beth Durst

Monday, August 7th, 2017

Journey Across the Hidden Islands

by Sarah Beth Durst

Clarion Books (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), April 4, 2017. 338 pages.

Sarah Beth Durst is so imaginative! I have to say that as a rule, the creatures her characters befriend and ride on are generally exceptionally cuddly. I’m thinking of the bear in Ice and the tiger in Enchanted Ivy, but now also the winged lion in Journey Across the Hidden Islands.

This one’s a middle grade adventure about twelve-year-old twin princesses. Seika is the heir to the emperor of the Hidden Islands. And Ji-Lin will be her sister’s imperial guard, along with her winged lion companion, Alejan.

Ji-Lin and Seika are still in training, but somewhat to their surprise, on their twelfth birthday, they are told they are ready to go on the Emperor’s Journey.

Every generation, the emperor’s heir journeys across the hundred islands and renews our bargain with the dragon, ensuring the continuation of the barrier for another generation. The heir travels only with her or his brother or sister and one winged lion, as Himitsu himself did long ago.

The barrier that the dragon maintains keeps the islands safe from the koji (monsters) on the outside.

But as Ji-Lin, Seika, and Alejan travel, they encounter koji where they shouldn’t be. They find the journey much more difficult than it should be, and other unexpected surprises in what’s supposed to be carefully planned. Is the barrier already falling? What if they fail in their quest? What will happen to their people?

Along the way during this adventure, there are wonderful details of this magical world, including mer-minnows, waterhorses, and unicorns. I like the interaction between the sisters, and the character of Alejan – obviously a young winged lion, and one who’s always hungry.

This is an excellent adventure for middle grade readers. And who wouldn’t want to fly on the back of a lion?

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Review of The Reluctant Queen, by Sarah Beth Durst

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

The Reluctant Queen

Book Two of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2017. 360 pages.
Starred Review

The Reluctant Queen begins exactly as a Book Two should do, with a quick summing up that jumps into the action (Don’t read this if you haven’t read Book One!):

Everything has a spirit; the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .

And those spirits want to kill you.

It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.

At age five, Daleina saw her uncle torn apart by a tree spirit for plucking an apple from his own orchard. At age ten, she witnessed the destruction of her home village by rogue spirits. At age fifteen, she entered the renowned Northeast Academy, and at age nineteen, she was chosen by a champion to train as his candidate. She became heir that same year and was crowned shortly after, Queen Daleina of the Forests of Aratay, the sole survivor of the Coronation Massacre. She’d heard at least a half-dozen songs about her history, each more earsplitting than the last. She particularly hated the shrill ballads about her coronation, a day she wished she could forget. Instead she had it hammered into her skull by a soprano with overly enthusiastic lungs.

Six months after her coronation, now that the funerals – and so many of her friends’ graves – weren’t so fresh, all of Aratay wanted to celebrate their new queen, and she was swept along with them. For her part, she planned to demonstrate her sovereignty by healing one of the barren patches created during the massacre and replacing it with a new village tree.

It is, she thought, one of the worst ideas I’ve had in weeks.

Indeed, when she collapses during the effort – and people who came to witness it are killed, Daleina is even more convinced it was a bad idea. Her friend the Healer does test, and tells Daleina that she is dying. She has an incurable sickness that will lead to more and more blackouts and eventually her death. These will get worse the more she uses her power. But what is a Queen of Aratay without using her power?

Even worse, in the last book, when Daleina became Queen, all the other candidates died. There is no one remotely ready to step into her place. But if Daleina dies before an heir is ready – the spirits will destroy Aratay and everyone in it.

So this second book is, once again, about finding someone to be queen. Daleina asks her champions to look for suitable candidates to train. But only very young girls are left in the academies.

That is, except for Naelin. She’s a mother of two young children who has always tried to hide her power. Nothing good can come of getting attention from the spirits! But will she step up for the good of Aratay? How about to protect her own children?

There are two plot threads in this book. One is the training of Naelin. The other is back at the palace, trying to find a cure. And then there are signs of foul play. And candidates start dying. The plot threads come together in an exciting and satisfying showdown.

The first book in this series was nicely self-contained, as I like first books to be. This one? Well, you do need to read the first book first to fully understand this world. Part of me felt like, But we just found a queen! – But I think it helped me feel more fully the tragedy of Daleina coming down with this illness so quickly after her coronation.

And the book ends with new impending dangers. I very much want to read on! My review of the next book will probably give away what happens in this one. Trust me! This is an imaginative series with some awesome world-building, intriguing characters, and plenty of suspense and danger. I am definitely going to want to read on as long as it continues!

sarahbethdurst.com
harpercollins.com

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Review of Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Norse Mythology

by Neil Gaiman
performed by the author

HarperAudio, 2017. 6.5 hours on 6 compact discs. Unabridged.

I could listen to Neil Gaiman read the phone book! Although I ended up finding Norse mythology quite strange and wild – I can’t imagine a better way to hear these stories than read by Neil Gaiman. And written by Neil Gaiman doesn’t hurt, either. He captures the magical and mystical feel of the tales.

There’s an explanation at the beginning about Asgard and Midgard and the Land of the Giants and all the rest – It might have been simpler if I’d had that explanation in print to refer back to. Anyway, this way I was caught up in the stories. Most of them had Loki being a trickster and Thor throwing his hammer around to get his way.

There are many stories in this collection, and many of them have more than one chapter. There’s a dizzying array of characters, though usually Neil Gaiman refers back to where we have seen an obscure character before, so it seems quite coherent.

We do learn how Thor gets his hammer and what powers it has. And we find out about many adventures of the gods and goddesses, which so often start by an action that wasn’t terribly wise. And then there are consequences. And gods and giants try to trick others and are tricked themselves. And most of the stories were not familiar to me like Greek myths, so they were all new adventures.

That review seems a little coherent, but here’s the bottom line: Norse mythology explained and retold by Neil Gaiman, and even read by Neil Gaiman. Now that’s worth listening to!

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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 The Fox Wish, by Kimiko Aman

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

The Fox Wish

by Kimiko Aman
illustrated by Komako Sakai

Chronicle Books, 2017. Originally published in Japan in 2003. 32 pages.
Starred Review

This book charmed, surprised, and enchanted me.

The book starts in the middle of the action, well, in the middle of a snack. We see a little blonde girl and her younger brother, and she’s got big surprised eyes. She left her jump rope at the park!

She goes to get it, and Lukie comes along. But when they get to the park, the jump rope isn’t there. But they hear laughter in the trees. They go to investigate.

The laughs were louder now, and I could hear it:
the swish, whip of the jump rope.

But it wasn’t Thomas and Samantha jump-roping.
It was foxes.

“Doxy, foxy,
touch the ground.

Doxy, foxy,
turn around.

Turn to the east,
and turn to the west,

and choose the one that
you like best.”

The spread shows the children looking out from behind some trees at a line of foxes jumping rope. Two are turning the rope, one is watching, and seven foxes are joyfully jumping, in various poses in the air.

The foxes were not very good at jump rope.
They were good jumpers, but their tails kept getting caught in the rope.

Lukie can’t help but laugh. So then they come out and join the foxes. The foxes politely ask them how to jump rope without tripping, and Roxie is glad to explain that they simply need to hold their tails up.

They all have a lovely time jumping rope together until it starts to get dark. When it’s Roxie’s time to turn the rope, she sees that the rope indeed has her name on the handle.

But when it’s time to go home, there’s a surprise. This is the part where I was utterly charmed. I don’t want to give it away, so let me just say that it’s delightful to watch wishes come true.

I love this book. The illustrations (Those fox faces! The joyful jumping!) are a big part of that. But also the story of a little girl who learns to give joy to others.

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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 Frogkisser! by Garth Nix

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Frogkisser!

by Garth Nix

Scholastic Press, February 2017. 372 pages.
Starred Review

This one’s fun. Garth Nix, the author of dark and mysterious tales of necromancy in the Old Kingdom has here taken a light-hearted and more traditional route. In a tale peppered with cleverness and delightful twists on tropes, we meet Princess Anya, whose wicked stepstepfather wants to take over her sister Morven’s kingdom.

He’s her stepstepfather because he married her stepmother. The stepmother “was expected to be quite evil but mainly turned out to be a very enthusiastic botanist.” But Anya’s father died a year after marrying the stepmother, and her stepmother married Duke Rikard.

So the girls had two stepparents. Their stepmother the botanist wasn’t a huge problem, but as it turned out, their stepstepfather was evil and wanted to be the king. Though Morven should by rights be crowned when she turned sixteen, in three months’ time, it was fairly certain Duke Rikard would somehow prevent this from happening.

Anya’s adventures begin when Duke Rikard transforms the current prince Morven’s in love with into a frog. But then he jumped into the moat with thousands of other frogs. Morven gets Anya to make a Sister Promise that she’ll find him. Anya makes a magical dowsing rod with the help of Gotfried, their castle librarian/sorcerer, to figure out which frog is Denholm, using hair from Morven’s locket.

But when she brings the frog to Morven, her sister refuses to kiss a frog. Fortunately, Gotfried has one dose left of Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm. This works best when a princess uses it, so now Anya gets to kiss the frog.

But when Anya does so, the frog turns out to have been a different former love of Morven’s, not Denholm. And then her stepstepfather, who notices someone has tampered with his spell, decides to send Anya to a distant land to school, and he’s got a new prince for Morwen who Anya realizes is a transformed magpie – with no actual family or kingdom to help Morwen take her rightful place as queen.

Anya does manage to find Denholm, in the hands of the local frogcatcher. But then consultation with the Royal Dogs convinces her the time has come for her to go on a quest.

“You can’t hide away,” the elder dog informed Anya. “You can’t even go back to the castle now. It is time that you sought help against the Duke. He grows in strength and power, and he clearly feels he can move against you and Morven now. This is your Quest: to find those who can help you defeat the Duke.”

When Gotfried gives her a copy of the spell for the making of “Fairly Reliable Transmogrification Reversal Lip Balm,” Anya gives in and adds to her quest a search for the ingredients to the spell, which include witch’s tears, a retired druid’s blood, and feathers fresh-pulled from a cockatrice’s tail.

Along the way, Anya collects allies – but many of those have also suffered transmogrification. Anya will get their help if she promises to reverse their transformation once she makes the lip balm. And so she assembles a motley crew. Once the heralds give her the name Frogkisser, her reputation spreads. When she finally assembles the ingredients, Denholm manages to break free and get into a pond with many other transformed frogs – so the Frogkisser name is apt.

This book is full of silly fun, with a nice traditional quest and amusing obstacles.

I enjoyed it immensely – so I’m not quite sure why it took me a very long time to finish. Probably the episodic nature of the story made the book easy to put down. This is light-hearted magical fun that makes me smile as I write the review.

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Review of We Forgot Brock, by Carter Goodrich

Friday, May 5th, 2017

We Forgot Brock!

by Carter Goodrich

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, New York, 2015. 44 pages.
Starred Review

Okay, I’ll say it. I’m a little tired of the recent spate of books about imaginary friends. Usually, they simply don’t win me over. There’s pretty much always a logical inconsistency somewhere in the idea of the reality of these imaginary friends. Something that wouldn’t quite work if carried to its logical conclusion.

Maybe this one caught me on a good day, but I was charmed by We Forgot Brock!.

This is Phillip and Brock. They’re best friends. They spend all their time goofing around together.

The weird thing is, nobody else can see Brock. Everyone calls him “Phillip’s Imaginary Friend.” Whatever that means.

Carter Goodrich uses the same technique used in Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. Most pictures show the world from the kid’s perspective, but sometimes we see what the adults see – no Brock.

Then the whole family goes to the Big Fair. They have a great time. Phillip falls asleep, but Brock wants to ride the Brain Shaker.

When Phillip wakes up in the car, to his dismay, his parents have left Brock behind!

Meanwhile, at the Big Fair, someone sees that Brock is upset. It’s a little girl named Anne with her friend, Princess Sparkle Dust. They take Brock home with them, and fortunately, it’s in the same neighborhood where Phillip lives.

Brock has a great time with Anne and Princess Sparkle Dust. But when he sees the Lost poster Phillip put up for him, he remembers how much he misses Phillip. Fortunately, they find each other.

Somehow, the adults are happier when Phillip and Brock play with Anne and Princess Sparkle Dust than they were when Phillip and Brock just played together. Fortunately, Phillip and Brock are happier, too.

There are lots of lovely touches in the illustrations of this story. Brock and Princess Sparkle Dust both appear to be drawn by one crayon. Both children are clearly imaginative. Phillip always wears a cape and Anne wears wings.

Maybe I was won over this time because the author didn’t try to explain where imaginary friends come from (That’s usually where the world-building breaks down for me). Maybe I was prepped for this book by loving Calvin and Hobbes. But whatever the reason, We Forgot Brock! stands out for me in the Imaginary Friends Genre. It takes imagination seriously and takes friendship seriously.

Don’t forget to read this book!

cartergoodrich.com
KIDS.SimonandSchuster.com

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Review of Thick as Thieves, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, May 1st, 2017

Thick as Thieves

by Megan Whalen Turner

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), May 16, 2017. 339 pages.
Starred Review

Here’s how eagerly I’ve been looking forward to this book: First I reread three books in the Queen’s Thief series in the week before ALA Midwinter Meeting in January. (I couldn’t find my copy of the first book, The Thief. I am going to order myself a new copy.) I looked up the number of the HarperCollins booth at ALA, and on opening night of the exhibits, I went straight there, without passing Go. I asked for and received an advance reader copy of Thick as Thieves. I had my reading material for the rest of the conference!

There’s a note at the front of the advance reader copy from the author. She says, “If you’ve read any of the other Queen’s Thief books, there are characters here you might recognize and be happy to spend time with again. If you haven’t read any of my other books, you can start with this one if you like. Every book spoils some other book, just a little, so there are advantages and disadvantages no matter where you begin.”

On the back of the book, it says that Megan Whalen Turner is the “bestselling and award-winning author of four other stand-alone novels set in the world of the Queen’s Thief.” The “stand-alone” part is arguable. I think you’ll enjoy them more if you read at least the first three books in order.

However, they have a case about this book being stand-alone. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been so impatient for Eugenides (the Queen’s Thief) to show up and for me to find out what he was up to. (I knew he was up to more than met the eye.)

Anyway, this book is set in the Mede empire, focusing on Kamet, the slave of the Mede ambassador to Attolia, who was a part of the second book, The Queen of Attolia. Now they are back home, and Kamet is again close to great power. His master, whose affairs he manages, is the nephew of the Mede emperor, and brother of the emperor’s chosen heir.

As the book begins, Kamet is accosted in an alleyway by an Attolian, who tells Kamet to meet him at the docks after dark. The Attolian will escort Kamet to freedom.

Kamet pretends to go along with it, but he’s laughing inside. Here are some of the reasons why he is happy in his place:

As a slave in the emperor’s palace I had authority over all of my master’s other slaves and most of his free men. I had my own money in my master’s cashbox. I had a library of my own, a collection of texts in my alcove that I carefully packed into their own case whenever my master moved households. I not only could read and write, I could read and write in most of the significant languages of the empire. My master had paid good money for it to be so. Someday he meant to make a gift of me to his brother, and then, as the next emperor’s personal slave, I would be one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in all the empire. I wouldn’t have taken the Attolians’ offer even if I’d believed it was sincere – and I didn’t. They meant to slice my throat and toss me in a sewer, I was sure.

But that same day, something happens to change Kamet’s mind. A friend in the household informs him that their master has been poisoned in his room.

When a man is murdered, his slaves are tortured. If any confess, then all are executed whether they share in the guilt or not. No one will buy them and they can hardly be freed – what a temptation that would put before the enslaved population. In the case of a poisoning, where the administration of the poison is unclear, the slaves are put to death on principle. The Medes fear little in quite the way they fear their own slaves.

So Kamet lets the Attolian help him escape. Most of the book deals with their adventures trying to escape the Mede empire and get to Attolia. All the while, Kamet has not told the Attolian that his master is dead and he’s a wanted man. The Attolian thinks that the emperor’s elite guard are after them because an important slave has escaped. They must deal with pursuit, slavers, hunger, illness, and many other pitfalls along the way.

As with the other books in the series, Megan Whalen Turner has her characters telling each other myths about the gods. I enjoyed that this time, as tales from the Mede empire, they are in a completely different style from the tales told in the earlier books. Those resembled Greek myths, and these resemble Assyrian tales. As before, the tales told mirror situations the travelers face.

Now, I wanted the journey to finish a lot sooner than it did. I suspect that might not be as much of a problem for folks who aren’t already familiar with the series. Also, the Advance Reader Copy has blank pages that it says will be filled with maps. I think maps would really help me enjoy the story of the journey more, so I could see that the two are making progress. As it is, without a map it feels like the journey is going on and on, facing obstacle after obstacle. This is enough motivation for me to preorder the finished book, despite having this advance copy. (And advance copy isn’t enough for one of my very favorite series!)

In the big picture of the series, we know that the Mede empire is eventually going to attempt to annex the three kingdoms of the peninsula. In the previous books, the big picture story focused on getting those three kingdoms to stop fighting one another so they could deal with the Mede threat. In this book, we saw one small step in holding off that threat a bit longer.

The author says at the front that she’s not done with the world of the Queen’s Thief, and she’s definitely not done with the Queen’s Thief. I’m so glad! Of course, she spends so much time crafting her tales, it’s time to settle in for another long wait. Good thing the wait is always worth it!

meganwhalenturner.org
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greenwillowblog.com
epicreads.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 Queen of Blood, by Sarah Beth Durst

Saturday, April 15th, 2017

The Queen of Blood

Book One of The Queens of Renthia

by Sarah Beth Durst

Harper Voyager, 2016. 353 pages.
Starred Review
2017 Alex Award Winner

Daleina is ten years old when her entire village is destroyed by the spirits – all except her family, who Daleina manages to save. She suddenly discovers in the terror of the destruction that she has an affinity to command the spirits. But she wasn’t strong enough to save the village.

But why didn’t the queen save their village? The queen is supposed to control the spirits and command them all to do no harm.

Ven, a champion who got to the village too late, doesn’t get a satisfactory answer either. In fact, he gets disgraced in return for questioning the queen.

Years pass. Daleina goes to the Academy to be trained to command the spirits. She wants to be chosen to be trained by a champion and then to be one of the heirs. The heirs must be ready in case of the queen’s death. Because then the spirits must be stopped from their instinct to destroy and made to choose a new queen, a new queen who will then harness their energy afresh and keep the people safe.

The people of Aratay lives in the trees. Wood spirits have been compelled to grow homes and bridges in the trees. Fire spirits provide light. Air spirits, ice spirits, water spirits, and earth spirits all work to make life continue in Aratay – even though those spirits would like to feed on human flesh.

This book has some elements of a wizard-in-training novel, and of a young leader learning what qualities are important in a ruler. But there are also elements of corruption in power. There is mystery as to what is going on and how it can be stopped. And, in keeping with the title, there’s a whole lot of death and blood.

The story is compelling. You can’t help but love Daleina. She’s not as skilled as her classmates. Her power is less direct. But she’s loyal and good at bringing teams together. Why does the disgraced champion choose her?

I spent a happy afternoon reading this novel. The world it presents is inventive, and the characters are people you want to spend time with. (I only wished fewer had died.) I’m looking forward to the next installment from the creative mind of Sarah Beth Durst.

Here’s the scene at the start when Daleina meets the champion, after her village has been destroyed, with only her family left:

For a brief instant, she imagined him sweeping her away, taking her to the capital, and proclaiming her his chosen candidate. It happened that way in the tales: a champion would appear in a tiny village, test the children, and pluck one to be trained to become an heir, and the heirs became legends themselves, creating villages, securing the borders, and keeping the spirits in check, in conjunction with the queen. She imagined herself in the palace, a circle of golden leaves on her head, with her family beside her, safe because of her power. Never again huddling afraid in a hut in a tree.

Her story should have begun right then, in that moment. Fate had declared that her power would emerge in her village’s tragedy, and chance had put the champion in the nearby trees at the moment the spirits attacked, too late to save the village but in time to meet Daleina. It should have been the beginning of a legend, the moment he recognized her potential and she embraced her future with both arms.

But it wasn’t.

The champion looked away, across the ruined village and the broken bodies. “Only the best can become queen. And she is not the best.” Daleina felt his words hit like slaps, and then he added the worst blow of all: “If she were, these people would still be alive.”

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