Tag Archives: fantasy

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

8 Feb

10194157Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 356

The servants called them malenchki, little ghosts, because they were the smallest and the youngest, and because they haunted the Duke’s house like giggling phantoms, darting in and out of rooms, hiding in cupboards to eavesdrop, sneaking into the kitchen to steal the last of the summer peaches.

Alina Starkov is an orphan to the border wars that have plagued her world, an imagined Russia called Ravka, and has always had family in her best friend and fellow orphan, Mal. After they grow out of the orphanage where they spent their childhood they are both enlisted in the First Army; Mal as a tracker, Alina as a cartographer. When they are sent on a mission to cross the Shadow Fold, a blot of darkness where nothing can grow or survive, an attack by the winged, flesh-eating volcra brings out a power that Alina didn’t even know she had. Before she understands what has happened to her, she is whisked off by the Darkling, head of the powerful Grisha Second Army. The Grisha all have powers, whether they are corporalki heartrenders or etherealki inferni, but Alina’s power has never been seen before and could be the key to the destruction of the Shadow Fold. As she gets sucked into the dazzling world of the Grisha, her uniqueness makes her the object of envy for many and marks her as the Darkling’s favorite; but when she unwittingly gets pulled into an ancient power play, she realizes that everything she knew about her new life was based on a fabrication, and that the fate of the world could balance on what she does with that knowledge.

So, this book sounds pretty tight, right? Well, it’s not. Kind of. I mean, maybe? Dammit, I finished this book two days ago and I STILL can’t figure out how I feel about it. The premise is so, so, good, but the execution is so, so lackluster.

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

7 Jan

8490112Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Author: Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Fantasy
Page Count: 448 pages

Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love.

It did not end well.

Karou is a young art student in Prague who has no idea who she actually is. Her hair grows out of her head a luscious shade of blue, she can speak a stupid amount of languages, and her sketch books are filled with hundreds upon hundreds of sketches of ghoulish devils, all with elaborate back-stories that she tells her friends. Only, they’re not just stories. Karou grew up in a devil’s lair; she is the ward of the Wishmonger, a devil named Brimstone who (you guessed it!) deals in wishes, selling them for teeth pulled out of the mouths of corpses by ghastly characters. One day, all over the world, blackened hand prints start showing up on  doors, and people report sighting strange beings who appear human, but whose shadows have wings. When Karou finds a handprint on the door to Brimstone’s shop, she is pulled into an otherworldly war between devils and angels, a war that she has been a part of for much longer than she knows.

This book has been getting an insane amount of hype ever since it came out, and I kept telling myself “by golly, I really want to read that! The next time it’s on the shelf at the library I’ll grab it.” Only, it was never on the shelf, and eventually I had to suck it up and put a hold on it, and thank god I did because this book is da bomb and easily one of the most enjoyable books I read in 2012.

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Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

23 Aug

When he grabs Mama’s wrist and yanks her toward the wall-hanging like that, it must hurt.

Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away I was a naive library school student doing my practicum in New York Public Library’s amazeballs Teen Central. During a discussion of what to recommend to teen girls to get them reading about strong female leads rather than dippy, self-loathing Bella, the lovely librarians of Teen Central introduced me Kristin Cashore‘s Graceling Realm.

For the uninitiated, and because this is the third book in the sequence (though the second book, Fire, takes place before Graceling or Bitterblue), let me try to do a brief summation: gracelings are people born with preternatural abilities.  Leck, who features in all three novels and is one of the most terrifying literary figures I have ever encountered, ruled the kingdom of Monsea for decades without anyone knowing he was graced. You see, Leck had the ability to control minds, to make people believe everything he said to them. He manipulated their memories and their free will just to please his psychotic whims until Katsa, the heroine of Graceling (graced super power: survival and general badassery) threw a dagger through his open mouth and killed him (holler!), thereby rescuing his young daughter, Bitterblue, and liberating Monsea from a sadistic tyrant.

Bitterblue is the story of the eponymous young queen, now eighteen, who inherited her psychopathic father’s throne after Katsa assassinated him. Stifled by her four overprotective advisers (who are all suffering from varying degrees of PTSD, I should add) and wanting desperately to help her kingdom move forward from its collective trauma but feeling woefully out of touch with the reality of her city,  Bitterblue makes like a teenager, disguises herself as a commoner, and sneaks out at night. She spends evening after evening in her city’s storyhouses, listening to tales of her father’s tyranny and her friends’ heroism. She meets two young men, Teddy and Saf, a printer and a thief,  and as their friendship develops a conspiracy begins to unfold that threatens her life, her kingdom, and the healing it so desperately needs.

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Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

14 Jun

So, about a month-ish ago before I lost my mind trying to move all my crap for the umpteenth time this year, I reviewed Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock. I loved the crap out of that book and was chomping at the bit for the sequel, Froi of the Exiles (Candlewick Press). I think that, in an alternate universe, I will write a paper about the psychological state of a person delving into a much-anticipated installation in a series versus that of a person cracking open a standalone or a first book. Totally different experiences, and if any of you are academic types I give you permission to steal my genius ideas and go win the Nobel. Anyways, I was excited, and alas, while I did really like Froi I didn’t LOVE it the way I did Finnikin.

It’s been three years since Finnikin and Isaboe reclaimed Lumatere from the imposter king, and both the land and its people are still healing. Froi has spent the past three years working the land with Lord August, studying with the Priest King, and training with the King’s Guard. When Froi is sent on a mission to infiltrate the royal court of Charyn so he can assassinate the king who orchestrated the Five Days of the Unspeakable, he finds himself drawn into the tragedy of the mad princess Quintana. You see, Charyn has its own cute little curse: no child has been born or conceived there for eighteen years. Quintana, through her own oracular proclivities, long ago claimed that she was the only one who could break the curse, and so has been essentially whoring herself  out to royal d-bags for her entire young adult life in order to save her country by producing a child. As Froi struggles to find a way to fulfill his mission, he slowly loses himself into the twisted workings of accursed Charyn, and each twist brings him closer to finding out what his destined role in all the madness is.

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Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

22 Apr

I have a not-so-surprising secret to share:

I am a serious fantasy nerd.

I mean it. Before I went to college, became an English major, and learned that it is shameful to read anything but literary fiction, I was a rabid consumer of paperback fantasies of the $6.99 variety. If there was a dragon or a woman disguising herself as a man to become a mage/warrior/first class citizen or whatever the hell I was on it (and yes, I read A Game of Thrones waaaaaay before it became an HBO series). Then I was brainwashed into believing that if it wasn’t literary it wasn’t worth reading, and I spent years slogging through things that I didn’t really enjoy but appreciated. It was actually through delving back into the wonderful world of YA fantasy that I re-discovered my absolute mania for reading. However, my time as an English major changed me: I will still shamelessly indulge in genre fiction without coming close to giving a damn, but now I tend to filter my selections a bit more based on a little thing called “quality writing.” (But only a bit.) That’s where Melina Marchetta comes in.

I fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s writing when I read her Printz award-winning novel, Jellicoe Road. If you like really complex, slowly unfurling and beautifully written stories and like to cry a shit ton, then Jellicoe Road is probably for you. Once I read it I of course decided to pursue her other books, and that’s when I came across Finnikin of the Rock, her first fantasy novel for teens (which was published in 2008 but WHATEVER. I can’t be on top of every damn thing). Say what? Could a master of contemporary teen realism really make that transition? Well, in, short: hell yes.

When Finnikin was nine years old he received a prophecy stating that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save his kingdom, Lumatere. So, being a strapping young lad, he gets his two best royal buddies together on a rock and they each cut a chunk of skin out of their thighs all in the name of heroism. I mean, that’s pretty standard behavior for a nine-year-old, right? Right. So, right after they do the great thigh-cut-a-thon, the Five Days of the Unspeakable happens: the royal family is assassinated, Lumatere is invaded by a royal asshole of a cousin, half the kingdom flees, a healer/witch lays a blood curse on the land while she’s being burned at the stake, and then this crazy black mist thing engulfs the kingdom, trapping those who remained IN and those who fled OUT. Got that? Yeah, neither did I for the first hundred pages, but all in good time. Flash forward ten years to Finnikin, now a hunk of burning 19-year-old, wandering the land with Sir Topher, the assassinated King’s First Man, in an attempt to account for all the displaced Lumaterans in order to find a nice little chunk of land where they can settle without fear of being sold to slavers, abused, starved, forced to live in ghettos to die of disease, etc. This really pleasant past-time gets disrupted when Finnikin and Topher take on a mute Novice named Evanjalin who claims to be able to walk through the dreams of those still trapped in Lumatere. Oh, and she also says that the royal prince Balthazar, one of Finnikin’s royal thigh-cutting buddies, is still alive. Finnikin must rely on the evasive and suspicious Evanjalin to lead him to the Prince so that the exiled nation of Lumatere can return home.

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