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2010-05-08 10:03 pm

A Conspiracy of Kings, by Megan Whalen Turner

A Conspiracy of Kings
by Megan Whalen Turner
316 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

I've been waiting SO long for this book. I loved each succeeding volume of Turner's Attolis series more than the last, up through King of Attolia (especially the outside POV of Costis), but... KoA remains my favorite. Despite mixed reviews, I still think CoK is decent, and it nicely continues the overarching plot intent of Gen ruling the continent. I thought that intention was convincingly advanced, though the unresolved romantic thread made me sadface.

As a side note, the first chapter is a wonderful reintroduction to the world, and I didn't see Gen as particularly out-of-character anywhere in the book. He has evolved into Attolis, as he had to.

For those who don't know, this is Sophos's story about what happens after his mysterious disappearance. If you don't know what that means, stop and go read The Thief, then The Queen of Attolia, then The King of Attolia. Order is not absolutely necessary--I read QoA first--but then again, I read QoA first and was horribly confused. And this is a series worth savoring.
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2010-04-24 10:53 pm

The Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine (reread)

The Two Princesses of Bamarre
by Gail Carson Levine
293 pages (paperback)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

Twin princesses Meryl and Addie are close opposites; timid Addie depends wholly on Meryl's bravery. When Meryl falls ill with the cursed, fatal Gray Death, cowardly Addie must find her courage in order to save her beloved sister.

After finishing Carol Berg's Revelation and feeling like I'd been hit with a sledgehammer, I had to cool down. So I turned to reread a childhood favorite. The Two Princesses of Bamarre is not my favorite of Levine's novels--Ella Enchanted remains the only one developed enough beyond folkish fairy-tale to touch me to tears--but it was sufficiently light, breezy, and satisfying. On this second read, I much admired the dragons and focused less on Addie and Meryl, who serve as wonderful childhood role models. This is a fable in truth, with obvious morals, but nonetheless offered with a light touch.
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2010-04-01 09:04 pm

A College of Magics, by Caroline Stevermer

A College of Magics
by Caroline Stevermer
468 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

In alternate 1800s Europe, with the British Empire and Austria meddling in political affairs of small nations like Ruritania, Faris Nallaneen is the Duchess of snowy northern Galazon, currently ruled by her conniving-but-not-really-wicked Uncle Brinkar. He sends her to Greenlaw College (where the graduates are called witches behind their backs) to await the turning of her majority. What follows is a prototypical school-of-magic story, clearly modeled off the modern-day university rather than boarding school. Faris befriends various interesting people, Jane Brailsford in particular, and makes one significant enemy: Menary of Aravill, whose involvement I can't describe further without spoilers.

I picked this up as a light read, and finished it satisfyingly in one sitting; in that respect, and in the "neatness" of the plot, it's a classic YA novel. But this is very mature YA, in all respects save explicit romantic development; the political intrigue that I love so much in adult fantasy novels is not dumbed down. The ending is almost deus ex machina, but at that point I was too carried away emotionally to mind.
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2010-03-30 08:21 pm

Violet in Private, by Melissa Walker

Violet in Private
by Melissa Walker
210 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/YA

This is a weird book. On one hand, it did make me tear up, with earns automatic points; on the other hand, the wish-fulfillment aspect is so explicit that it detracts from the novel. Author Melissa Walker is an ex-fashion editor hailing from Chapel Hill, NC, who earned a BA in English from Vassar College--coincidentally, protagonist Violet lands an editorial internship in New York, calls Chapel Hill home, and attends Vassar. Only, y'know, she's a supermodel. The author bio jokes openly about writing what you know, but at times the book reads like the author is simply reliving her college days--we don't need to know that Lathrop House is just down the quad from Main, or about ACDC as dining hall and band.

Moreover, Violet is simply not that engaging as a protagonist--pitiable, yes, but not very interesting. Her miniscule self-esteem and romantic struggles are a tad too realistic. I especially disliked the "temporary" romantic resolution; as "true" as it may be, it only left me with a lower opinion of Violet because she is waffling and useless yet again.

Acquired from BookMooch, but I won't be keeping this in my permanent collection nor planning to read the previous books in the series.
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2009-04-30 08:31 pm

The Kestrel, by Lloyd Alexander

[WARNING: Here there be spoilers.]

The Kestrel
by Lloyd Alexander
244 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

The second in Alexander's Westmark trilogy; still distinctly YA and "adventurous." I often find this type of book tiresome unless there is Martin-style realism, which would be entirely inappropriate here for both the target audience and Alexander's style. Still--teenaged monarches running off in disguise? Really?

On the other hand, I was glad for the lack of political marriage alliances, since the plot otherwise satisfies several other cliches (case in point: Cabbarus, who should have been killed in Westmark to begin with--yes, I know his forgiveness is crucial to Theo's moral development, but plot should not serve the author so blatantly). More politics in this book than the previous, which is yum. I enjoyed seeing civil war from a sociological perspective, and Theo's transformation into the Kestrel was chilling. I loved Connie and I hope he gets a starring role in The Beggar Queen.

Random questions/annoyances: When did Theo propose? I loathe off-screen turning points, which an engagement between the protagonist and his love interest definitely qualifies. What happened to Monkey--was he a traitor? Is he dead? If his ambiguous end is a next-book lead-in... Like I said, I haven't much patience for this type of book.

Westmark was nonetheless a compelling read and a slim volume. Many of my friends (*cough* [ profile] mrissa, [ profile] yhlee) are in love with it, so I would recommend giving Alexander a try despite my own tepid feelings. I promise you won't lose too many hours of your life. I'm still not a fan of Alexander or this series, but unlike after Westmark, I am persuaded to at least read further.
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2009-03-14 09:43 pm

Forever Princess, by Meg Cabot

Forever Princess
by Meg Cabot
383 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA

So, er, what was the big Other Thing with J.P., if not sex? I don't think I ever figured that out. Apparently this is the final book in the Princess Diaries series; I'll be sad, as they serve as very consistent fluff reading. (I think I may have missed a volume, though.( Hooray for Mia's happily ever after, at last! I pretty much skipped the romance novel excerpts after the first two, because they were terribly purple and deadly boring. Cabot actually wrote and published Mia's novel, called Ransom My Heart... I will pass, thanks.

I liked how Mia "grew up" over the course of these books; here the format is updated as well (the college acceptance letter clippings, the text messages). Tradeoff is that these books will be obviously dated in five or ten years.
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2009-03-14 09:37 pm

Westmark, by Lloyd Alexander

by Lloyd Alexander
184 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

Read for [ profile] mrissa's book-club discussion. My comment, abridged:

I clearly felt the influence of children's (vs. YA) literature in the heavy-handed characterization, the simple prose, and the arc length. Cabbarus seemed like a flat villain, and I never became much enamored of Theo. His philosophical struggles about morality appear distinctly childish, although perhaps I'm comparing unfairly to recent readings in philosophy at a layman but much more sophisticated level (solidly adult nonfiction).

The politics became more interesting, but again, I prefer the denser machinations of adult secondary-world fantasy. I did like the absence of magic; what subgenre is this exactly? Not fantasy-of-manners in style, but no apparent magic either. In terms of type, I'm also not fond of adventure stories.

Were it not for your discussions, I probably would not continue reading the series simply because I can think of so many better books to read (though I don't think WESTMARK is bad really); but I will persevere, and hopefully the other books are more satisfying intellectually.

All three of Alexander's books in the Westmark trilogy are classified as children's lit in my library; is this the younger side of YA or middle-grade?

Random comments: I haven't read a classic bildungsroman adventure fantasy in so long, but now that I have, I'm reminded that I dislike it. Many of the characters, like the dwarf Musket and his mountebank master Las Bombas, border on cariacture. I guessed Mickle's secret-ish when she and Theo met Cabbarus, so the drawn-out hinting from that point on was painfully tedious. The apprentice=devil jargon in the very first sentence was confusing; I've never heard that terminology before, and at first I thought it was meant as a funny allusion/pun.

Oh yes, the plot: Theo is an (orphan?) boy apprenticed to the printer Anton, happy with his simple life. When he agrees to print pamphlets for a mysterious Dr. Absalom, the press is unexpectedly raided by royal soldiers and destroyed. With that, Theo sets off on an unwilling adventure across Westmark.

Overall, I am not entirely repulsed, and the books are short enough for me to give the improving plot another chance; but were it not for [ profile] mrissa, I don't know when that second chance would come given the length of my TBR list. I've already gotten The Kestrel from the library and I have been told it is a stronger book than Westmark, which for me did not live up to high praise from [ profile] mrissa and [ profile] yhlee.
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2009-03-12 11:24 pm

Chalice, by Robin McKinley

by Robin McKinley
263 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Mirasol is a common beekeeper unexpectedly named the Willowlands' Chalice, a member of the ruling Circle second only to the Master--who is a third-level priest of Fire barely returned from the temple and not quite human. The usual power-grab complications ensue.

This was interesting but not absorbing; and I was only a little freaked out by the bees. (I'm just glad I don't live in the Willowlands, because I physically could not deal with that in real life. Fiction, though, is okay.) The societal structure appears very patriarchal--Chalice is always female, Master is always male, and the two remain unchanged, stereotypically gendered roles. I also disliked the unrounded, too-EVIL antagonist (not Deager, the Overlord). I guessed from the start that Mirasol and the Master would triumph and live happily ever after; the weird flashback-as-memory narrative structure implicitly promises a happy ending, and it would probably have worked better without cover blurb spoilers.

I hear that Chalice is not among McKinley's best works. Definitely not in the mood for fairytale retellings anytime soon, but what else does she have to offer? This one was not bad at all, just not outstanding. I did like the magic and political systems, the former twisting elemental tradition just a bit to be interesting.
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2009-03-12 11:18 pm

Climbing the Stairs, by Padma Venkatraman

Climbing the Stairs
by Padma Venkatraman
247 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Historical

Vidya is fifteen and wants desperately to go to college. Unfortunately, Indian girls in British-ruled India during World War II are destined for marriage, not higher education; fortunately, Vidya's appa (father) is a progressive freedom-fighter doctor. A tragic accident forces Vidya, her amma (mother), and her older brother Kitta to move to the traditional extended-family household of her paternal grandfather thatha. She finds refuge in her grandfather's library, up the stairs in the forbidden men's section of the house; and she meets a boy named Raman who genuinely cares for her (even if he falls into the typical sexist ways through habit).

I connected very deeply with Vidya, the classic adolescent protagonist struggling against cultural expectations--even more because I know that the prejudice she experienced still goes on today. People still self-censor paki because it has such racist connotations and is part of contemporary bigotry. On a craft level, I thought that Venkatraman used a different, and more realistic, way of resolving the romantic thread; however, I was a little dissatisfied with Raman's character arc, as he never stops trying to "help" Vidya. His overprotectiveness makes for an unbalanced relationship. Still, I enjoyed their romance and the family conflicts--I found the story gritty, painful, and real. This is a riveting coming-of-age story written by a woman of color about a woman of color. Recommended, especially if you are doing the [ profile] 50books_poc challenge.
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2009-03-08 07:11 pm

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by J.K. Rowling

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
by J.K. Rowling
111 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Such fun meta-fiction! Dumbledore's commentary is not entirely truthful, prompting me to go back and selectively reread book 7. This is a collection of five Wizarding bedtime stories, with sagely snarky comments following each. In fact, Dumbledore's comments are much more interesting than the stories themselves. It's not worth the outrageous price for a slim hardcover volume, however pretty; but your local library will have it, and for HP fans 'tis a speedy, amusing read.

In the first story, "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," a Muggle-helping wizard passes away, leaving his lucky cooking pot cauldron to his cranky son. The pot, which has been carefully enchanted, begins to hop and clang incessantly until the young wizard continues his father's kind acts and is allowed to put a slipper on the pot's metal foot. Second, three witches ally together to quest for "The Fountain of Fair Fortune". By seeming coincidence, a bedraggled knight joins their party. On the way to the fountain, each has resolved his or her tragic misfortunes without any magic from the fountain at all. In "The Warlock's Hairy Heart," a young warlock cuts out his heart to protect himself from the infatuations of love. When he finally falls in love (of a sort) with a maiden, he shows her his hairy heart in its casket. The maiden pleads with him to put his heart back, but in its long absence the heart has gone mad and takes over the warlock's body, causing him to cut out the heart of his beloved maiden. And then, of course, he kills himself in tragic love. "Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump" is a funny tale about a foolish Muggle king decides to learn magic and hires a charlatan to help him. The charlatan enlists Babbitty the old witch (who delightfully reminds me of Pratchett's Granny Weatherwax) to help him, but the king attempts to resurrect a dead hound, the charlatan is unveiled and Babbitty pulls a trick of her own in revenge. Finally, "The Tale of the Three Brothers" discusses a certain set of three brothers and their encounter with Death. Readers, of course, know perfectly well that the three gifts from Death are utterly false and imaginary. Of course.
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2008-12-14 10:33 am

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
374 pages
Genre: Fiction/YA/SF

What authors seek, more than anything else, is word of mouth advertising. And for Suzanne Collins, the word of mouth campaign has succeeded spectacularly. Long before I read The Hunger Games, I had repeatedly read high-praise reviews of the novel on my flist. I am fond of dystopias--one of my favorite books is Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale—but also suspicious of the young adult genre, particularly young adult science fiction as spearheaded by Scott Westerfeld, whose books I enjoy but do not really appreciate in-depth. So I approached The Hunger Games with a certain amount of trepidation. Katniss sounded like just your typical stubborn, free-spirited protagonist (supposedly a "strong female"), and the plot synopsis was interesting but not astoundingly original.

In the broken remains of North America, the glorious Capitol rules over 12 colonies, called Districts--there was once a 13th colony, but it rebelled and was utterly destroyed for such defiance. In continuing punishment, each year the Capitol stages the Hunger Games--one boy and one girl ("tributes") from each district, to fight to the death in a controlled arena, captured every second by cameras, as the ultimate reality television. Katniss Everdeen from the 12th and poorest district, a resourceful and hardened girl fighting every day to keep her family fed, finds herself one of the 74th Tributes when she volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose. The rest, of course, is Collins's book.

By the end of the first page, I was smiling at Katniss's dear, frail little sister Prim. By the seventh page, I had fallen in love with Gale. And I couldn't stop reading; the characters' plight, set against the stark dystopic backdrop, had knotted clear fishing wire around my heart and would not stop reeling me in. I made internal excuses, of course--just one more page, one more chapter, oh, maybe two--but I did not, and still do not, possess the willpower to stop reading a truly good book.

And this is a good book. Certainly the best young adult science fiction tale I've read this year, perhaps ever, given the relative scarcity of that subgenre. Westerfeld, for all his popularity and fans, has never managed to evoke such a reaction from this reader. I connected with Katniss from the start, but Collins showed me Peeta's virtues and ultimately managed to balance the love triangle. As a writer myself, I understand the difficulty of such a balance. At first I thought that I could predict the plot easily enough, but Collins surprised me at several points, particularly the end. The love triangle is patently obvious early on, of course. Though I fall into the "young adult" age category, I usually prefer reading more complex adult literature; however, I am naïve enough to empathize fully with Katniss's confusion. I know exactly what it feels like to not be sure whether you like, rather than just like, someone--much less two people at once! I don't envy Katniss's dilemma but I understand it perfectly.

The cliffhanger ending left me wordless. I could only close the book, close my eyes, and exhale, "Oh, my." Katniss's indecision right up until the last page is absolute series setup. It's a gorgeous cliffhanger, enough closure to end a novel but not enough to end readers' emotional attachment. The plot may be superficially concluded, but the characters—the most important emotional threads—are still at the introduction.

Ironically, the cover (an elegant black affair in itself) proclaims Collins as an NYT bestselling author, but I have never heard of her. In this case, word of mouth has far prevailed. I've already enthusiastically endorsed the book to several friends, and consider this review high praise as well.
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2008-11-01 02:28 pm

Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

by Gail Carson Levine
244 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

From the cover blurb, I had great hope for Levine's newest release. Despite their younger core audience, I loved Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre. And the premise of Ever excited me so much: Kezi is a talented weaver and dancer raised in Hyte, a country following a monogamous religion worshipping Admat. Olus is the youngest Akkan god yearning for mortal companionship. They fall in love and must overcome the ultimate sacrifice--death--to be together. Plus I had heard hints of faith being a major theme, with Kezi becoming agnostic at the end. I'm not so sure about that last part, alas. Ever is frustratingly simplistic in both construction and content.

To be fair, Levine doesn't hide the book's intent or style. On the first page, Kezi's style is set forth--simple, plain, concise. This can work, and maybe it works for other readers, for me it became irritating because I wanted more depth and less choppy skimming over the surface. I enjoyed the religious themes, as expected, but not as much as I expected. I enjoyed the fairytale/divine myth format, but I was unsatisfied by the resolution; Kezi didn't give up or lose anything permanent and she lacks a sense of true agency throughout the book. It's a quick and competent read--however, I expected much more from Levine, especially with this amazing premise. Essentially, I wish this had been an older YA or adult novel instead of younger YA skewing to middle-grade. That's not Levine's fault but she definitely could have done better even within genre and age restraints.

ETA: And as [ profile] meganbmoore mentions, it's narrated in first-person present tense, if that's an issue. I tend to slip into the narrative easily and don't notice the POV unless it's really jarring, so I forgot to note it.
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2008-08-27 12:53 pm

Wyvernhail, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes

by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
174 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Atwater-Rhodes's career has pretty much fizzled out, which is regrettable. The Keisha'ra series is strong despite its immature prose and poorly retained character development across books. The first two, Hawksong and Snakecharm, tell Danica and Zane's compelling romance. Falcondance focuses on Nicias, son of two previous minor characters; from then on, Wolfcry and now Wyvernhail centered around the Wyvern's Court. Atwater-Rhodes does a good job of developing minor characters into interesting protagonists, but in the process she loses depth from previous protagonists. Zane and Danica are aged, it's true, but I was sad to see them so useless in this final volume.

Also (spoilers ensuing), I didn't agree with Hai's final choice at the end. Ahnmik is portrayed almost too well; I urged Hai to take Nicias and live out the rest of their lives with the falcons, because I wasn't convinced of her bond to the serpiente.

A good series and breezy YA; I want to read some falcon fanfiction, but this was a good place to end the canon.
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2008-08-18 08:22 pm

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer

Breaking Dawn
by Stephenie Meyer
756 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

What you've heard thus far about Breaking Dawn? All true. I won't bother to repeat the criticisms. Meyer's prose is clunky but bearably so; in this book particularly, she invents way too many minor characters; and she doesn't understand the fundamentals of plot theory. The ending is a huge deus ex machina, a perfectly happy ending with no price paid--but if you've been keeping up with the news, you know all that already. As did I. So why do I continue to read Meyer?

Well, I'm a masochist, and a completist. I thought Twilight wasn't half-bad, especially for a first novel; but the series becomes steadily worse and builds to a climactic let-down in Breaking Dawn. I'm also disturbed by the conservative undertones--abstinence until marriage, Bella's vehemence against abortion, the whole destiny vs. free will debate regarding werewolf imprints, and most of all, the central idea that motherhood will change your entire life, meaning, and personality. That happens for many people, I'm sure, (hopefully including [ profile] kate_nepveu!) but Meyer presents it as a fact of life. (Of course, these are my personal political views intruding as reader bias.)

Just a few days ago, I was reading David Wolverton's daily email column on writing, and his topic was religion in genre fiction (no link or quote, alas--but you should subscribe! Say "Kick me" in the email), particularly fantasy. He talked about Christian roots and good vs. evil, all of which is true for epic fantasy (which I generally dislike for these same qualities, but that's a different issue). His point was that commercially successful fantasy writers avoid sex and obscenity in their fantasy, because otherwise the conservative religious readers will get offended. Magic-fearing evangelists notwithstanding, Twilight is a very conservative work. And it has been hugely successful. Exceptions come to mind--George R.R. Martin and Jacqueline Carey, plus many others who are popular with experienced/jaded fantasy readership--but I do think that Dave's rule is true, albeit "selling out." I would never have thought of it because I skipped from Diana Wynne Jones and Tamora Pierce straight to Guy Gavriel Kay, et. al., but my reading tastes are unusual for my age group. Things to ponder.
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2008-06-30 06:58 pm

House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones

House of Many Ways
by Diana Wynne Jones
404 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA/Fantasy

Charmain Baker, an utterly respectable young lady, is sent to house-sit for her Aunt-by-marriage's Great Uncle William, better known as the Wizard Norland. The house--of the title and thus many-wayed--is magic, of course; events are further complicated by the arrival of a clumsy (but not in the way you would expect) apprentice, and the danger of a purple insectoid creature called the lubbock lurks in the pretty meadows beyond. Howl and Sophie enter the story about halfway through; this is also where the action picks up and I really started enjoying the story. I didn't particularly care for Charmain at the beginning; she is appealingly bookish but also frustratingly naive. However, once the original HMC cast comes on stage, things really get interesting with palace intrigue (the royals, especially Princess Hilda, are delightful). There is a clear villain, as one might expect in a YA novel; I didn't find this too detracting. Overall, a strong Jones book that doesn't live up to Howl's Moving Castle (as no sequel can ever match the original) but is on par with Castle in the Air. The voice and style are very classic DWJ, and very British (I giggled every time Charmain said "shall"). The plot twists were excellently executed, fun and foreshadowed; I still love Howl/Sophie, and on top of all that, the cover is just beautiful. I do think, though, that a reader would get more out of this book if they were already familiar with HMC (either book or movie), despite its standalone status.
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2008-06-06 11:08 am

Princess Mia, by Meg Cabot

Princess Mia
by Meg Cabot
274 pages (hardcover)
Genre: Fiction/YA

The Princess Diaries series is getting ever more uncreative with titles. Anyway, I predicted or suspected most of the plot points in this, but it was an incredibly fast read and Mia remains interesting, so I didn't mind. Still emotionally affecting and very easy to empathize with her--but good God, I'm scared of having a long-term relationship now. And I think what Mia did was idiotic, because it's not something I would do and therefore, given its importance to the plot, I found it a little hard to accept. That said, I really like how Mia has grown up throughout the series, while still being classically adolescent. Maybe Cabot has finally learned multi-book foreshadowing, too--Boris is acting a little suspicious.

Good book, more substantial development than some of the more recent fluff volumes in the series. Do not start reading with this one, though. It will make no sense. Go back and read The Princess Diaries if you haven't already, which sets a fair tone that is maintained.
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2008-06-01 12:50 pm

A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

A Great and Terrible Beauty
by Libba Bray
403 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA/Historical

It took me the longest time to finish reading this, because the story had two opposite effects on me: I was compelled to turn pages as I read, but once I closed the book and put it down I had absolutely no inclination to go back. I predicted or suspected all of the plot twists, and the climax was cheesily sentimental.

Spoilers )

Certainly Bray's debut novel is not bad; however, in my opinion it doesn't deserve the hype. It is perhaps a little above mediocre in the YA category, but for this reader (who happens to fall, by virtue of age, into the YA category herself) it is solidly average overall. And you know, life is too short to be reading only average books, when so many exceptional works are being published every day. I won't be reading the sequels to A Great and Terrible Beauty, although I do welcome end spoilers.
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2008-03-09 01:13 pm

The Will of the Empress, by Tamora Pierce (reread)

The Will of the Empress
by Tamora Pierce
550 pages (trade paperback)
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy/YA

My second read-through, since I have a policy of reading all purchased books and I bought this one at Tammy's book signing during Alpha. Despite the oft-cited drawbacks of her novels--mainly the strong YA slant in depth of development--I foresee turning to this again as comfort reading. The prose is utilitarian and the good/evil conflict is rather starkly painted, but Pierce's characters are compelling (if a bit Mary-Sue-ish at times, though it didn't bother me). Politics abound: Sandry is summoned to the Empire of Namorn, her homeland, by her imperial cousin Berenene. Daja, Tris, and Briar accompany her, but after all their multifarious travels, the foursome could really use some extra bonding.

On a technical level, flaws are easily pointed out in this novel. The omniscient POV and obvious foreshadowing is jarring; the ending is very neat yet certain plot issues--are ambient mages always more powerful than mere academic ones?--leave more to be desired. However, I think that The Will of the Empress, like so much of Pierce's work, succeeds purely on a intuitive level. I couldn't put this book down, even though it was a reread. Of course, I've always had a soft spot for Sandry, and I absolutely can't wait for the Tris-goes-to-Lightsbridge novel.

Tentatively recommended to select Pierce fans, if you like politics and/or Sandry.