Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Review of The Hidden Palace, by Helene Wecker

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

The Hidden Palace

by Helene Wecker

Harper (HarperCollins), 2021. 472 pages.
Review written July 14, 2021, from my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com
Starred Review

I loved The Golem and the Jinni so much, I preordered this book as soon as I heard that there was a sequel. I think you’ll enjoy this more if you’ve read the first book (and you definitely want to read it!), but even though it had been eight years since I read the first book, the important parts came back to me as I read.

Like the first book, I’m tempted to call this Historical rather than Fantasy, because the historical details of life in New York, both the Syrian neighborhoods and the Jewish neighborhoods, ring true. This comes after the crisis of the first book, and talks about what’s next for the golem and the jinni, now they’ve found each other. How do you build a life when your lifespan goes far beyond your human neighbors?

Meanwhile, we find out about two other creatures like our heroes: There’s a golem whose master is the young orphaned daughter of a rabbi, hiding in an orphanage. And across the sea, there’s a jinniyeh, outcast from her own kind because she can tolerate touching iron, but who hears about the iron-bound jinni who lives across the sea.

Chaya the golem still hears the thoughts of all around her, so she discovers when they notice that she’s not ageing. She’s going to need to make a new life for herself. Ahmad the jinni is much less deliberate. When his partner dies, he becomes obsessed with making a palace out of metal inside their warehouse. And when someone who doesn’t need to eat or sleep becomes obsessed, he can truly withdraw from the world.

This is another rich tapestry of a book, dealing with two people who aren’t actually human, but who are full of nuance. Can they stay in each other’s lives, or are they too different? This book feels completely realistic as it explores this question. We also see how each one has become part of a community, and lives all around them are touched by their existence. And we’ve got further thoughts about what it means to be human from the perspective of those who, technically, are not human at all.

This is a wonderful follow-up to an amazing story.

harpercollins.com

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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 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 A Heart So Fierce and Broken, by Brigid Kemmerer

Thursday, July 1st, 2021

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer

Bloomsbury, 2020. 445 pages.
Review written October 31, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Heart So Fierce and Broken is the second book in the series begun with A Curse So Dark and Lonely. And no, the series is not finished yet. The first book finished with a dramatic breaking of expectations with big implications for what would happen next – and so does this book. Both books seem to resolve most conflict brought up in the book – and then our tidy sense of completion is totally disrupted.

The first book is a retelling of “Beauty and the Beast.” Harper is brought from DC in an attempt to break the curse. Meanwhile, the kingdom isn’t getting much governing, but she helps the prince get through that crisis and an attack from a neighboring kingdom. At the end of the book, though, without giving details, we learn there’s a secret older brother who should be the rightful heir to the throne. And he is the child of a magesmith and has magic in his blood.

This book is about that heir, who doesn’t want to claim the throne but also doesn’t want to be killed. We also follow the fate of a princess of the neighboring kingdom who was not chosen to be her kingdom’s heir but wants to see if she can bring peace.

I like the way the author puts realistic political problems (needing a harbor for trade) into the fantasy kingdom. There’s some horrific cruelty in both books which I didn’t like, though it does make the people working for peace shine more brightly.

I enjoyed this second volume greatly. It now doesn’t have much to do with the “Beauty and the Beast” story, but is an excellent tale of a group of travelers trying to navigate dangers on every side and figure out what course of action is best.

Yes, I’m going to want to read the next book. Amazon says it’s called A Vow So Bold and Deadly and will come out on January 26, 2021. And yes, Amazon says it’s the conclusion to the series. It’s been set up well.

brigidkemmerer.com
bloomsbury.com

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Review of A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik

Saturday, June 5th, 2021

A Deadly Education

Lesson One of the Scholomance

by Naomi Novik

Del Rey, 2020. 320 pages.
Review written May 21, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Oh, this book is wonderful. It’s the story of magical kids sent to wizard school – but this wizard school wants to kill the students.

Naomi Novik’s world-building in this new series is incredible. All kinds of details about this school for wizards, existing in the void, where maleficaria – monstrous creatures – come to feed on people who use magic. And the heroine of the story, Galadriel, daughter of a good witch who lives in a mundane commune and is loved by everyone – was born to balance that out, destined to be a powerful sorceress wielding death and destruction. And nobody likes her.

Here’s how the book begins:

I decided that Orion needed to die after the second time he saved my life. I hadn’t really cared much about him before then one way or another, but I had limits. It would’ve been all right if he’d saved my life some really extraordinary number of times, ten or thirteen or so – thirteen is a number with distinction. Orion Lake, my personal bodyguard; I could have lived with that. But we’d been in the Scholomance almost three years by then, and he hadn’t shown any previous inclination to single me out for special treatment.

Selfish of me, you’ll say, to be contemplating with murderous intent the hero responsible for the continued survival of a quarter of our class. Well, too bad for the losers who couldn’t stay afloat without his help. We’re not meant to all survive, anyway. The school has to be fed somehow.

Ah, but what about me, you ask, since I’d needed him to save me? Twice, even? And that’s exactly why he had to go. He set off the explosion in the alchemy lab last year, fighting that chimaera. I had to dig myself out of the rubble while he ran around in circles whacking at its fire-breathing tail. And that soul-eater hadn’t been in my room for five seconds before he came through the door: he must have been right on its heels, probably chasing it down the hall. The thing had only swerved in here looking to escape.

The whole elaborate world-building is fascinating and surprising. In that world, kids brought up in wizard enclaves have big advantages – being able to share power, and with automatic alliances. You need alliances to survive graduation – when the seniors on the bottom level of the school have to get out through the graduation hall, where maleficaria have been building up.

Those who aren’t in an enclave, like El, are at a disadvantage. It turns out she’s got amazing abilities – but her natural affinity is toward death and destruction, and she’s determined not to suck the life force out of any living creatures. Which makes things more difficult for her. And when Orion is anywhere near, anything dramatic she pulls off is assumed to be his work.

It’s hard to explain the charm of this book. If you like elaborate world-building at all, this one is amazing. And you’ll be pulled in by the grumpy witch trying not to become an evil sorceress, but trying to survive. And she might have to make some friends and kill some monsters to do so.

The book ends in a way that hints at a big conflict in the future. Nothing’s ever simple for El! I plan to preorder Book 2, coming out in September. I don’t even want to wait for a library copy.

TheScholomance.com
naominovik.com
randomhousebooks.com

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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 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 Kingdom of Back, by Marie Lu

Thursday, May 27th, 2021

The Kingdom of Back

by Marie Lu

Putnam, 2020. 313 pages.
Review written December 26, 2020, from a library book

The Kingdom of Back is a story of Nannerl Mozart, the big sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, based on things we know about her life.

We know that she was a child prodigy before her little brother came along, and she performed with him before the royalty of Europe. We also know that she composed music – but we don’t know about any of that music existing. We don’t know if some of her music got published in the name of her brother.

We’re also told that she and her brother invented a country, the Kingdom of Back, and had their family’s servant draw a map for them of this country. In this novel, it’s an actual magical kingdom they got to visit, and it’s tied to young Nannerl getting her heart’s desire – to be remembered in her own right.

Nannerl meets a princeling of the magical kingdom who tells her he can grant her desire, but first she needs to complete three tasks for him. Those tasks get more and more sinister, and Nannerl isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing. But she loves her music and wants to be able to compose.

Here’s a magical look at the young Mozarts that will leave you thinking about what it was like to be a creative young woman in a time when making art was the province of men. This isn’t a typical fantasy novel, but it is a beautifully woven tale.

marielubooks.com
PenguinTeen.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Winterkeep, by Kristin Cashore

Saturday, May 15th, 2021

Winterkeep

by Kristin Cashore

Dial Books, 2021. 518 pages.
Review written May 11, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Winterkeep is a fourth book in the series that began with Graceling. Like the rest, it deals with enough new characters and situations that you could enjoy it perfectly well without having read the earlier books. Though I always have to add that you should read them, they’re wonderful! In fact, I checked my reviews, and it’s been nine years since I read Bitterblue, so I’m thinking it’s time to reread them all, and no wonder the details were vague as I read this book. The author caught me up with anything I needed to know.

Bitterblue has now been queen of Monsea for five years, but they have recently learned about Winterkeep, a country across the sea. Bitterblue’s emissaries who last visited Winterkeep never returned, and she’s afraid they’re dead and wants to find out what happened to them. She has also learned that several merchants were cheating her by buying cheap zilfium from her mines – it turns out to be a valuable source of fuel in that other country.

Bitterblue wants to find out more, so she plans a voyage to Winterkeep, along with Giddon, her friend and a member of the council, and Hava, her half-sister, who is graced with the ability to make people see her how she wants them to see her. But the voyage does not go as planned.

I wondered that we had characters who are adult in a young adult novel, but then the reader learns about Lovisa Cavenda, a student in Winterkeep. Her parents are powerful in Winterkeep politics, even though they are part of opposing parties. They plan to host the visiting delegation, but it begins to become clear to Lovisa that they are up to something.

Winterkeep doesn’t have gracelings or monsters like the lands we’ve heard about before, but it does have telepathic foxes, who bond to one human – or so people think. There are also silbercows – seal-like creatures living out in the sea that communicate with selected humans with mental images. And the silbercows know about a giant creature with tentacles – they call her the Keeper – who lives in the depths of the sea.

There are plenty of mysteries and plots winding you through this intriguing and magical world. We learn about nefarious things happening, but not until the end do we find out why. And then our characters must work to thwart those responsible.

Something I love about Kristen Cashore’s books is that she does put her characters through trauma – but she’s realistic about what that costs them and about their struggles to heal from trauma. Even defeating a villain can be costly to a person’s mental health, especially if the villain is your own father, and her books show this more than once.

All of her books pull me in and absorb me and make me want to stay immersed in them until I finish – which is a big problem since they are so long. Be forewarned! This is a magical world that will feel real and will make you care about the fate of its characters.

kristincashore.blogspot.com
penguinteen.com

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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 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 How Big Is Zagnodd? by Sandra Boynton

Sunday, May 2nd, 2021

How Big Is Zagnodd?

by Sandra Boynton

Little Simon, 2020. 16 pages.
Review written December 4, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is the very first time I’m reviewing a board book. But it’s a new Sandra Boynton board book!

Honestly? I don’t often even notice the board books that come into the library because you can’t put them on hold so I can’t look them over as they come in. But today I was pulling a bag of board books for a customer (we’ve had them on an ask-for-a-bag basis during the pandemic so they don’t collect drool), and saw this one, read it and was utterly charmed.

Spoiler alert: Zagnodd is SO big!

And then we’re asked more questions about other aliens. “How long is Boknuk?”, “How fuzzy are Fleeb, Fleeeb, & Fleeeeb?”, and “How bright is Igwak?”

But the place where I laugh out loud is, “How dancey are the nimble Klorggix of Planet 9?” And after that, we see one earthling named Steve who is SO lost.

If you delight in reading nonsense words, obviously this is the board book for your family.

Sandra Boynton’s genius is in making books that are short and sweet but delight little ones and adults alike. My own 32-year-old daughter had a set of Boynton board books and I swear her first word was “Fffff!” when reading the book called Doggies that had a WOOF! on each page. How Big Is Zagnodd? is a worthy addition to her offerings.

sandraboynton.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Mermaid Moon, by Susann Cokal

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

Mermaid Moon

by Susann Cokal

Candlewick Press, 2020. 480 pages.
Review written December 1, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Mermaid Moon is the story of Sanna, a mermaid who comes to land not for the love of a man, but in order to find her mother. She’s been brought up by her father, after the witch of their flok put a powerful spell of forgetting on all of them. But Sanna has been apprenticed to the witch and is learning magic. And she learns her mother’s name and that her mother is landish. Then Sanna learns the magic to give herself legs and go to the island where she may have been born.

The book is set in medieval times, and when the folk of the island see Sanna’s accidental magic, they are sure she’s a saint doing miracles. But the baroness of the island is a witch herself, and she develops her own plans for Sanna.

The language used in all of this is lyrical and beautiful, as if we’re hearing a folk tale, or perhaps an epic heroic tale. Sanna tells her own story, but we also get chapters from the perspectives of people in the islands as well as songs the mermaids sing and a look at what the mermaids do while waiting to see how Sanna’s quest turns out.

Here’s how Sanna’s first sight of the islanders is described:

I limp under a series of archways, and then I see them: the landish folk. There are many more here than belong to my own clan and flok, and they are sitting on broken trees arranged within a big five-sided hollow of stone, with so many shining objects around them that my eyes are dazzled. I smell them fully, and hear them – all at once, overwhelming with sensation, as if smell and sound are always tangible things (to us, they are) and batter my body like waves.

“How are you going to bear them?” my age-mates asked when they heard of my plan. Especially Addra, who is flame-haired and dark-eyed and the most beautiful of all, forever admiring the reflection of her face and breasts in a rock pool – though she has the tongue of a dead clam, as Sjaeldent likes to say, and must rely on her beauty, not her singing, to win her way in the world.

The magic in this book stands out as working very differently from any other fantasy book I’ve read, especially the magic of the landish witch, sinisterly using bones from family members.

Let me close with one of the songs of the Mermaids:

You who sail upon the seaskin –
You look to the skies to guide you.
Why up at air and not down to sea?
Trust, we will show you the way.

candlewick.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Princess Will Save You, by Sarah Henning

Saturday, April 17th, 2021

The Princess Will Save You

by Sarah Henning

TOR Teen (Tom Doherty Associates), 2020. 351 pages.
Review written October 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

The Princess Will Save You takes the essentials of the story from The Princess Bride but makes her stable boy true love the one who is kidnapped and needs to be rescued. He knows that the princess will save him.

The princess, Amarande, is the daughter of the Warrior King and has been trained to fight. In fact, she trains with the stable boy. But after her father suddenly dies, she is not allowed to rule unless she marries. And the neighboring countries all have candidates for her hand. One of those isn’t allowed to take the throne from the Dowager Queen Mother before he’s eighteen unless he marries. So the match should be just right. If not for the problem of Amarande’s true love. Oh, and the fact that the prince is odious and power hungry.

In a couple of things, the plot is a little more plausible than The Princess Bride, though it adds some new coincidences. And though the initial problems are cleared up in this book, we make some new discoveries at the very end that will greatly affect power on the continent.

This is unashamedly a kissing book. It’s also got swordplay and pirates. Not quite as much witty banter as The Princess Bride, but it’s still a lot of fun. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the sequel when they’re not loosely following the movie plot.

sarahhenningwrites.com
torteen.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Poisoned, by Jennifer Donnelly

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

Poisoned

by Jennifer Donnelly

Scholastic Press, 2020. 307 pages.
Review written March 6, 2021, from a library book
Starred Review

Like her earlier novel, Stepsister, in Poisoned, Jennifer Donnelly takes the basic skeleton from a fairy tale and goes far afield with it, ending up with a story that includes the main plot elements, but with very different applications.

Both stories begin with gore. In Stepsister, the stepsister cuts off her toes to try to fit her foot into the glass slipper. In Poisoned, a huntsman skillfully succeeds in cutting out Sophie’s heart and putting it into a box.

Fortunately, seven brothers living in the woods find her, and one of them is a skilled clockmaker. He makes her a clockwork heart. It happened on the morning of Sophie’s birthday, when she would have become queen. Everyone had told her that she was too soft-hearted to be a good ruler, but she had found a handsome prince to marry, who would be able to make the tough decisions.

It does turn out that Sophie’s stepmother, who ordered the killing, wasn’t entirely to blame. She was ordered to have Sophie’s heart put in the box by a sinister dark king, Corvus, the King of Crows, who comes to her in her magic mirror.

But clockwork doesn’t last forever. So after Sophie learns what the brothers did, she decides she will go find the prince she’d agreed to marry, the man who said he loved her, and ask him to use his army to attack the castle of the King of Crows. Never mind that he seems to have accepted the story of her death and doesn’t seem to be looking for her.

Both of Jennifer Donnelly’s fairy tale retellings also put a feminist spin on things. Yes, dear reader, it will turn out that Sophie can’t rely on a handsome prince to save her and must do so herself. In fact, it may turn out that her soft heart is exactly what she needs to defeat the dark king.

Another marvelously spun tale, making you look at a familiar story in a completely different way.

jenniferdonnelly.com
scholastic.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Raybearer, by Jordan Ifueko

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Raybearer

by Jordan Ifueko
read by Joniece Abbott-Pratt

Blackstone Publishing, 2020. 14 hours.
Review written February 8, 2021, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review

Raybearer is a complex fantasy story set in a richly-imagined world amazing in its detail.

Our main character, Tarisai, was brought up by servants and tutors in an isolated house in the desert, always longing for her mother, known simply as “The Lady,” who spent most of her days traveling. Tarisai learns that she is also the child of a desert spirit that the Lady bound to grant three wishes – and Tarisai has the burden of fulfilling the third wish. Tarisai is shown a face and told that after she loves him and is anointed by him, she must kill him. That is the wish she is bound to fulfill.

Tarisai only learns later that the face belongs to the prince, the Raybearer heir. The emperor of their land bears a ray that binds to him eleven council members. The bond between them, through the ray, is intensely close. They can speak to each other silently through the ray and they get Council Sickness if they are ever apart from all council members. Tarisai becomes a candidate for the prince’s council, but she resists becoming a council member, because she doesn’t want to kill him.

Tarisai has a gift, a hallow, where she can touch a person or thing and take memories from them. Maybe if she takes her own memories, she can thwart the curse.

That’s only the beginning, though. My only caveat with this book and the amazing world-building is that the plot is a bit too convoluted. We’ve got some major injustices to be righted, trying to thwart the curse, secrets about the ruling family, unjust new decrees, and much more. And it doesn’t come to a tidy solution – there will have to be further books because of what we know is coming.

The plot is maybe a little convoluted, but the characters are amazingly drawn. There are a lot of parents who are not great parents, but it is rarely so simple as plain good or bad. The Lady especially is a very complex character who loved Tarisai – but was afraid to show that love. She made some decisions in the past that seem bad, but Tarisai learns why she made those decisions.

I love that this world is so unlike any other I’ve ever read about in a fantasy novel. And the author smoothly gives us the information without information dumps. We learn how things are done and the beautiful and intricate setting, including magical travel and griots who tell stories and many more wonderful details.

This book is an amazing achievement, especially given that this is Jordan Ifueko’s debut novel. Yes, I will be looking for the next installment.

jordanifueko.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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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