Posts tagged ‘Young Adult Fantasy’

The Rithmatist

RithmatistTitle: The Rithmatist
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Illustrator: Ben McSweeney
Narrator: Michael Kramer
ISBN: 9781427237439 (audiobook), 9780765320322 (hardcover)
Pages: 378 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs, 10 hours
Publisher/Date: TOR Books, a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. c2013.

The door stopped rattling. All was still for just a moment, then the door burst open.
Lilly tried to scream, but found her voice caught in her throat. A figure stood framed in moonlight, a bowler hat on his head, a short cape covering his shoulders. He stood with his hand on a cane to his side.
She could not see his face, backlit as he was, but there was something horribly sinister about that slightly tipped head and those shadowed features. A hint of a nose and chin, reflecting moonlight. Eyes that watched her from within the inky blackness.
The things flooded into the room around him. Angry, squirming over floor, walls, ceiling. Their bone-white forms almost seemed to glow in the moonlight.
Each was as flat as a piece of paper.
Each was made of chalk.
They were each unique, tiny picture like monsters with fangs, claws. They made no noise at all as they flooded into the hallway, hundreds of them, shaking and vibrating silently as they came for her.
Lilly finally found her voice and screamed. (12-13)

Joel missed his chance to become a Rithmatist when he was younger, but he still gets to observe Rithmatists practice at school. His father was a master chalk maker, but died in an accident and now his mother works non-stop at school in order to pay his debts. Changes and challenges are in the air, as a new professor joins the staff and shakes up the school. When students start disappearing, Joel and a remedial Rithmatist student aid an aging professor in investigating where they went. With no way of protecting himself, Joel isn’t the only one who fears he is in over his head.

I was surprised by how well described the chalk drawings were on the audiobook, and thought the details had been added for listeners benefit. Turns out not only are there drawings, but also descriptions of what they look like and how they function included at the beginning of each chapter. The descriptions test your memory for geometry terms from way back when, but they still make sense. I was also grateful for the map at the beginning of the book that detailed where these places were on an altered map of the United States. What happened to the country, I’m not sure we’ll ever know the full details of, but the names and placements of the communities make sense in an almost post-apocalyptic manner.

I also appreciated the turn of events that occur throughout the novel. The tension is drawn out (pardon the pun) slowly, with first one then multiple students going missing, and the trouble escalating. It’s similar to the trouble facing Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series, as parents either pull their students from the university or are encouraged by the authorities to leave them there under the protection of the guards. But Joel is not the fated wizard who will save the world. In fact, he is powerless against the chalklings – creatures made of chalk that can attack both chalk defenses and living beings — instead using his analytic brain to overcome what he sees as a handicap. Melody is the loquacious, wise-cracking side-kick in this story, whose curiosity and optimism get the better of her and repeatedly put her in danger. But Joel needs her Rithmatist skills, however remedial, and their dynamics and budding friendship evolve and appear very naturally as they interact with increasing frequency through their studies with Professor Fitch. I also liked Professor Fitch, who seems best suited to mentor both Melody and Joel. As the principal of the school at one point tells Joel, “Professor Fitch likes to be bothered [...] particularly by students. He’s one of the few true teachers we have at this school.” (83) Professor Fitch emphasizes strategy over showmanship, and really encourages reason from the pair.

The problems that Joel and Melody encounter are neatly tied up by the end of the book, only to have author Brandon Sanderson throw a twist into the mix, so the last few chapters open a whole new can of worms. Readers will have to wait for the sequel to truly discover where Joel, Melody, and the person responsible for the disappearances are headed. And unfortunately, the sequel is not expected to see the light of day until 2015. Plenty of time for readers to practice their own rithmatist skills.

The Last Dragonslayer

I waited so long to post this review because I was on the Cybils committee the year this was a finalist, and I didn’t want to post it immediately after the results were announced.

Last DragonslayerTitle: The Last Dragonslayer
Author: Jasper Fforde
ISBN: 9780547738475
Pages: 287 pages
Publisher/Date: Harcourt an imprint of Houghton Mifflin, c2012.
Cybils Finalist for Middle Grade Fantasy

Once, I was famous. My face was seen on T-shirts, badges, commemorative mugs, and posters. I made front-page news, appeared on TV, and was even a special guest on The Yogi Baird Daytime TV Show. The Daily Clam called me “the year’s most influential teenager,” and I was the Mollusc on Sunday’s Woman of the Year. Two people tried to kill me, I was threatened with jail, had fifty-eight offers of marriage, and was outlawed by King Snodd IV. All that and more besides, and in less than a week. (intro)

Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the manager, receptionist, booking clerk, and taxi service for Kazam Mystical Arts Management, an employment agency for magicians, soothsayers, shifters and other “mystical artisans.” Originally slated to serve as an apprentice but taking over after the owner mysteriously disappeared, she has little authority with her employees. Business is literally dying as magic is drying up. Most suspect magic is tied in some way to the dragons that have been held in reserves meant to keep the peace between humans and dragons. Rumor and premonitions predict the immanent death of the last surviving creature, and possibly the death of magic as well. Jennifer sets out to save the company and her position, the only things she values, before Big Magic brings unwanted changes and possible war.

This was a book that I enjoyed more with a second reading than I did after the first. It’s not something I would give rave reviews for, but still something I would recommend. Readers are thrust into the story with little introduction, and the fast pacing and detailed descriptions make it difficult to catch up with what’s going on originally. There are a lot of complex satirical themes that recommend itself to teen or tween readers, such as capital and corporate gains, political maneuverings, and legal wrangling that are used to manipulate events one way or another. Jasper Fforde handles all these angles with skill, but I’m just not sure how well I could summarize them when recommending it to readers without revealing too much. There’s a somewhat anticlimactic twist at the end that I didn’t see coming and still don’t fully understand the magic involved in its resolution. I think my favorite part of the whole story was the characters. Jessica is a no-nonsense, independent thinker who comes to her own resolutions and holds to her beliefs in a community that is corrupted by greed. The book doesn’t have the fight sequences that you would expect in a book titled The Last Dragonslayer but for people who want a unique fantasy with some social commentary mixed in, this is a good place to start.

The Raven Boys

Raven BoysTitle: The Raven Boys
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Narrator: Will Patton
ISBN: 9780545465939
Pages: 409 pages
CDs/Discs: 10 CDs, 11 hours 9 minutes
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press (Scholastic Audiobooks), c2012.

He fell to his knees — a soundless gesture for a boy with no real body. One hand splayed in the dirt, fingers pressed to the ground. Blue saw the blackness of the church more clearly than the curved shape of his shoulder.
“Neeve,” Blue said. “Neeve, he’s — dying.”
Neeve had come to stand just behind her. She replied, “Not yet.”
Gansey was nearly gone now, fading into the church, or the church fading into him.
Blue’s voice was breathier than she would have liked. “Why — why can I see him?” [...]
“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve, Blue. Either you’re his true love,” Neeve said, “or you killed him.” (15-16)

Blue Sargent has been told that she will kill her true love with a kiss, and therefore has sworn off men entirely. But when she sees a spirit in a graveyard on St. Mark’s Eve, there’s only two reasons she would see him: either she’s his true love or she killed him. Neither bodes well for Blue, so when she runs into the boy, named Gansey, when he visits her psychic relatives, she’s curious about him. It turns out he and his friends Adam, Ronan, and Noah have been searching for the hidden burial-place of an ancient king that will grant a wish to his discoverer. But little do they know that their group isn’t the only ones searching for the lost king, and their competition will stop at nothing to reach the tomb first.

Initial thoughts were that I didn’t enjoy this audiobook as much as I had hoped to. Loyal readers might remember that I was surprised by how much I found myself enjoying Shiver and raved about Scorpio Races. Looking back at my Waiting on Wednesday post when I had first heard The Raven Boys was being published, I expressed some confusion about the plot and characters. Unfortunately, my suspicions turned true, and I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this story. There were a lot of unexplained phenomenon that I’m assuming will be explained in the upcoming sequel, but I wish I we had been rewarded with some of those answers at the end of this book.

For people who like gothic mysteries, this might be a good book to try. There are lots of spooky descriptions, unexplained physic phenomenon, and brooding boys. The romance is a little gothic too, since I found myself comparing Adam to the guy from Corpse Bride, even though he and Blue are both very much alive. Blue starts off dating Adam, but is inexplicably “drawn” to Gansey, the leader of the pack of boys that also includes perpetually sullen Ronan and the perpetually silent Noah. I thought Adam was the most flushed out of all the boys, and we get a really good sense of his motivations and feelings, more so than anyone else. It’s got some mysticism too as Gansey’s obsession with finding lay lines and an ancient king who may (or may not) be buried nearby dominates his thoughts and actions.

But in order to get to the romance (which is a predictable love triangle unlike what we find in Scorpio Races) we have to slog through the first third of the book, which is a slow recount of back story after back story, first with Blue, than with they boys, then finally Gansey’s quest. The action is almost nonexsistent until the final chapters, where it then becomes so rushed (maybe making up for lost time?) that you have difficulty following what’s happening. It’s not so much that there are unexplained coincidences, but things are so intertwined that it’s difficult to accept that these five teens would get along with each other so well in real life. It’s Gansey’s search that holds them all together, but no one appears as interested in it as he is until the very end. We see very little of anyone’s life separate from each other, which makes me wonder if that’s why I found it so difficult to relate with them. I spoke with another librarian who also really liked Scorpio Races but couldn’t get into The Raven Boys so if you fall in this category I would probably say skip the inevitable let down and go reread Scorpio Races for the umpteenth time.


SeraphinaTitle: Seraphina
Author: Rachel Hartman
Narrator: Mandy Williams with Justine Eyre
ISBN: 9780307968920 (audiobook), 9780375866562 (hardcover)
Pages: 465 pages
CDs/Discs: 11 CDs, 13.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, Random House Children’s Books, c2012.
Publication Date: July 10, 2012

“We find your security inadequate, Captain Kiggs. This is the third attack in three weeks, and the second where a saar was injured.”
“An attack you set up shouldn’t count. You know this is atypical. People are on edge. General Comonot arrives in ten days–”
“Precisely why you need to do a better job,” she said coolly.
“–and Prince Rufus was just murdered in a suspiciously draconian manner.”
“There’s no evidence that a dragon did it,” she said.
“His head is missing!” The prince gestured vehemently toward his own head, his clenched teeth and windblown hair lending a mad ferocity to the pose.
Eskar raised an eyebrow. “No human could have accomplished such a thing?” (25-26)

Forty years after a treaty was drafted and agreed upon, relationships between the dragon and human populations are strained at best. When the human Prince Rufus is murdered in a draconian manner, all eyes turn to the dragons. Dragons, who can assume the physical appearance of humans in order to interact with them, are being taunted, attacked, and held under suspicion. With the treaty anniversary approaching and official dignitaries from both sides meeting, Seraphina is kept busy as the newly hired music assistant. But her close, long-time friendship with a dragon puts her in a unique position to understand their analytical, emotionally detached way of thinking, and Seraphina quickly finds herself aiding Captain/Prince Kiggs in his investigation. They’d better act fast though, as the dragons and humans are meeting soon, and there may be a murderer in their midst with plans for more mayhem.

What can I say about this book that hasn’t been said already? I’ve tried really hard to avoid all the praise that has been heaped on this debut novel, but it’s almost unavoidable. Even the cover is stamped with praise from such big names as Christopher Paolini, Tamora Pierce, and Alison Goodman. I truly fell in love with this book, and the audio was excellent from start to finish. Yes, the dragons might be the stereotypical unemotional beings, but Hartman does manage to add depth to the dragon characters’ rationality, even though feelings are treated like the plague for their kind. If I remember correctly, I compared the story to someone as if Star Trek Vulcans could fly and were plopped down in Renaissance court, something of a Spock meets Shakespeare.

The language is beautiful, the setting has depth and breath and, since Seraphina is a music teacher, sights and sounds come alive. Hartman has created a world with social and cultural background, from a full pantheon of diety-like saints and court etiquette to navigating political turmoil and espionage. Mandy Williams does an excellent job with her voices and has the inflection spot on, in turn emphasizing the emotion of the humans and the reserved nature of the dragons. I really appreciated the choice to have Justine Eyre contribute (I won’t say in what way) because it clearly separated those two narrators and indicated the shift to readers. I have to feel sympathetic towards Kiggs because you know by the end of the book he has some of this figured out and he’s just trying really hard to ignore the obvious inconsistencies of Seraphina’s personality. What a personality Seraphina has though, it’s no wonder she makes friends so easily. She’s very likable in her naive sort of way, which aids her in convincingly lying when necessary to aid her in treading that fine line between navigating and mediating for the two distinct worlds. She’s got a quick mind that is showcased throughout the book, something we don’t really see in strong female protagonists very often who are usually too busy trying to save their own skin or getting involved in some sort of love triangle. Seraphina does both at some point throughout the story, but it’s not the whiz-bang action but more a thinker novel. If you’ve seen the newest version of True Grit, I view her as very comparable to Mattie Ross (the little girl) in regards to her wits, intuition, and tenacity.

There were two things that I do have to complain about though. At the very end with the scene between Kiggs and Seraphina, I kind of wish that had gone differently, just because they have an amazing friendship that is built over their mutual collaboration and admiration for each other. Seraphina’s humanity and her struggle to find her place in the world really ring true, with the author exploring some topics that some teenage girls are faced with in terms of self-acceptance. The other thing that fell flat for me was Seraphina’s “mental imaginings” (what would you call them without giving them away) until you figured out what they actually were. Then they just struck me as massively convenient. As in “REALLY? You just did that because you’d backed yourself into a corner and needed somewhere to go with this, so you added this stuff to make it work.” I think the story would have been much more interesting and Seraphina much more relatable if she didn’t have this mental block hanging over her head and she didn’t have all these clues to fall back on. Isn’t one distinguishing aspect of her enough, now she’s a freak of nature? I hope this makes sense to people who have read the book.

Both of those things played a very small role in the book, and while I think they’ll later have a larger impact on my appreciation of the series, it should by no means detract from anyone’s enjoyment of this book. I’d heard good things about this book, but the real reason I finally made an effort to snag a copy was that it was named a finalist for the Morris Award, YALSA’s award for a work of young adult fiction by a debut author. YALSA’s blog The Hub has issued a challenge to readers everywhere to finish the finalists before the award is announced next week. Go check out the Hub’s interview with Rachel Hartman that they just recently posted, along with information about the challenge itself. It’s also a Cybils finalist for the Teen Science Fiction and Fantasy category. At least take a look at this book before the sequel, titled Drachomachia, is released this fall.

Tiger Lily

Tiger LilyTitle: Tiger Lily
Author: Jodi Lynn Anderson
ISBN: 9780062003256
Pages: 292 pages
Publisher/Date: HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.
Publication Date: July 3, 2012

Tiger Lily shimmied her wrists. It was the twitching that gave her away.
Peter’s face grew grim and perplexed. He reached for her wrists. It was the wrong thing to do.
For all the time I had watched over Tiger Lily, I still underestimated her. She must have been free for some time, because as he leaned in, she flung all her rage against him with her weight, held him against a tree, her fingers around his neck. Panting, her heart racing, she squeezed until he choked for breath and sank slowly down the tree, half conscious.
She left him dazed and lying in the dirt, and ran.
It wasn’t until the next day that Tiger Lily realized she’d left her necklace behind, hanging around his neck. (56)

Tiger Lily, found and adopted by the shaman when she was just a baby, has never really been accepted by the tribe due to her tomboyish ways. She excels at hunting, running, and swimming, quite often better than the boys. So when she encounters both the despised pirates and the infamous and feared Peter Pan in the same day, any other person would be scared. But Tiger Lily’s demeanor intrigues both of them, and she receives a challenge from Peter to find the Lost Boys hide-out, all the while being watched by the pirates who are hoping she leads them to their sworn enemies. So begins a unique friendship, which might be more except that Tiger Lily is promised to a oafish older man in her own tribe. With the arrival of Englishmen and a blonde-haired girl named Wendy who is everything girly that Tiger Lily is not, her father’s position in the tribe and her alliance with the Lost Boys is challenged. Will the pirate’s persistent fight against the Lost Boys lead to a solution to all of Tiger Lily’s problems, or lead her down a path that no one sees coming?

This is a unique telling of the Peter Pan story from primarily Tinker Bell’s perspective, which seeing as how the book is named after Tiger Lily I did not expect. I found myself enjoying it anyway, and Tinker Bell’s unique perspective and ability to read people’s hearts allowed us to see everyone through an objective (although still opinionated) filtered lens, and get swept away by the story more than the emotional turmoil of one character. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t love what Anderson did with the characters, because she did a great job of making them her own. Stripped of almost every fantastical element, she still brings the mystery and magic of the story we all know to life without changing the major plot points or characters. Granted, I’ve never read the original and have only seen the Disney version, but the more retellings I read the more I want to read the original by J.M. Barrie. We still have the one-handed Hook, still have Peter Pan and the Lost Boys and Tinker Bell. But Smee was a serial murderer before enlisting in Hook’s crew, Wendy arrives by much more conventional means, and Tiger Lily’s adoptive father, Tick-Tock (named after the infamous clock) is a cross dresser, which I did not see coming but adds another layer to this peculiar tale and contrasts nicely against Tiger Lily’s tomboy tendencies. It’s bare-bones, realistic magic more reminiscent of Tuck Everlasting than flying boys and pixie dust.

The setting is also lush and vibrant. At one point Anderson mentions Tiger Lily swimming with someone (I won’t reveal who, because that would spoil it) and describes her holding on to his neck and wrapping her legs around him, and I could visualize it perfectly with just the few words she uses. The hostility between the groups is palatable, and the climax and the conclusion keep readers engaged until the very end. I could picture so much of the story while reading, it was almost like a movie playing in my head, and I couldn’t stop until I finished the story several hours later.

There are so many points of discussion with this book, as Tiger Lily has a few hard decisions to make and she doesn’t always act the way readers expect her to act. In fact, I like this strong, powerful, and fierce warrior version so much more than the meek, tame, Pocahontas like character I expected. I think this is really the key to reading this book, is that you don’t get what you expected. You expect a simple love story, and while it does end happily, it twists and turns in a way that leaves you guessing. Allow this book to pull you in and lead you to where it ends, because you will be satisfied by the journey and the eventual conclusion. Definitely recommended for fantasy fans who enjoy retellings or are tired of the love-triangle angle in fantasy, or older readers who enjoyed Barry and Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchers series when it first came out.


Title: Pandemonium
Series: sequel to Delirium
Author: Lauren Oliver
Narrator: Sarah Drew
ISBN: 9780061978067
Pages: 375 pages
CDs/Discs: 9 CDs; 10 hours, 34 minutes

The next day, the sky is a pale blue, the sun high and amazingly warm, breaking through the trees and turning the ice to rivulets of flowing water. The snow brought silence with it, but now the woods are alive again, full of dripping and twittering and cracking. It is as though the Wilds have been released from a muzzle.
We are all in a good mood–everyone but Raven, who does her daily scan of the sky and only mutters, “It won’t last.”
On my way to the nests, stamping through the snow, I’m so warm I have to take off my jacket and tie it around my waist. The nests will be green today, I can sense it. They’ll be green, and the supplies will come, and the scouts will return, and we’ll all flow south together. [...]
Red. Red. Red.
Dozens of [birds]: black feathers coated thickly with crimson-colored paint, fluttering among the branches.
Red means run. (126-127)

Lena has escaped from the “civilized society,” but has lost her love and savior Alex in the process. Now she’s living with Raven and Tack, two people she met after escaping, trying to portray an obedient life while helping the resistance from the inside. Through flashbacks to “Then”, we see her being rescued from certain death by a company of resistance fighters, hiding in the Wilds, surviving on what little they can scrounge and preparing for the coming winter and move south. But Lena, Raven, and Tack have to push their harrowing journey behind them if they are to stay hidden from prying eyes. In her task to get close to and watch a young man named Julian who serves as figurehead of the movement insisting upon “the Cure” for all, she finds herself kidnapped with Julian and held with nothing but an umbrella and a tube of lipstick at her disposal. Can she turn Julian into an ally without exposing her own secret, or will they be unable to bridge the gap that separates them?

If you remember, I fell in love (pardon the pun) with Delirium upon my first reading. This sequel made me question what I loved about the first one. I started listening to it as an audiobook, and could NOT get into it. It might have been the narrator, but Lena sounded whiney, overly brooding, and just melodramatic. The writing, which I’m sure was trying to be poetic and descriptive, just seemed to languish. Everything seems to take her breath away or amaze her with either its beauty or its horror. She feels everything and internalized the minutest of details, and Oliver takes the time to explain everything. For instance:

Alex is the only boy I’ve ever known or really spoke to. I don’t like to think of all those male strangers, just on the other side of the stone wall, with their baritone voices and their snorts of laughter. Before I met Alex, I lived almost eighteen years believing fully in the system, believing 100 percent that love was a disease, that we must protect ourselves, that girls and boys must stay rigorously separate to prevent contagion. Looks, glances, touches, hugs–all of it carried the risk of contamination. And even though being with Alex changed me, you don’t shake loose the fear all at once. You can’t.
I close my eyes, breathe deeply, again try and force myself down through the layers of consciousness, to let myself be carried away by sleep. (16-17)

Who thinks like this?! Okay, we get it, you can’t sleep. We got that with the previous, unquoted (is that a word?), paragraph where you talk about the noises you hear. We as readers don’t need to have everything spelled out for us so completely.

Once I got the printed book from the library, I gave up on the audiobook. It went a lot faster, but now I had the narrator’s voice stuck in my head. And I couldn’t get it out. They really need a new narrator for this series, because I know I would have liked it more if I hadn’t been so focused on all the times that Lena went reflective. Even when she’s getting attacked, about halfway through the book, she’s much more reflective in her descriptions than matter of fact. “I am striking without looking, struggling to breathe, and everything is bodies–hardness and enclosure, no way to run, no way to break free–and the slashing of my knife.” Maybe the book should have been written as a novel in verse.

I also struggled with the jumping back and forth between “Then” and “Now”. The timeline of events got confused in my brain, and readers still don’t witness how Lena, Raven, and Tack actually infiltrated the “real” world, which I was most curious about since it seems like people rarely move between cities in this new society. I would have liked it much better if the story had started and finished with Then, and proceeded to Now chronologically.

I have to admit though that Oliver knows how to write the action sequences, even with the overly descriptive passages. Lana is a warrior similar to Katniss from The Hunger Games and she readily adapts and acquires her survival instincts. She fights with the best of them, and is not about to get taken, captured, or killed, especially after Alex tried so hard to get her out and avoid the cure. The ending is a doozy. On the one hand, it is cliche and predictable and groan-enducing that we now have to wait for book three, but I still wanted to stand up and applaud her for her execution as red-herrings were thrown at us from the beginning and had thoroughly convinced me it wasn’t going to happen, ESPECIALLY not on the last page. And the plot twist regarding the kidnapping was also something I did NOT see coming.

Be prepared to read this as opposed to listening to it, and you’ll be able to avoid the overly dramatic whine that permeates my reading now and you’ll enjoy the action much more.


Title: Behemoth
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Illustrator: Keith Thompson
Narrator: Alan Cumming
ISBN: 9781442334106
Pages: 485 pages
Dics/CDs: 8 CDS, 9.5 hours
Publisher/Date: Simon Pulse, c2011. (Audio: Taped Editions)

His words faded as a metal groan filled the air, the world tilting beneath them. Deryn’s dress boots skidded sideways on the silk carpet, and everyone went stumbling toward the howdah’s starboard side. The railing caught Deryn at stomach level, and her body pitched halfway over before she righted herself.
She stared down–the foreleg pilot below had toppled from his perch, and lay sprawled in a circle of protesters. They looked as surprised as the pilot did, and were bending down to offer help.
Why had the man fallen from his saddle?
As the machine stumbled to a halt, something flickered in the corner of Deryn’s vision. A lasso flew up from the crowd and landed around the shoulders of the rear-leg pilot, then he, too, was yanked from his seat. A man in a blue uniform was scrambling up the front leg.
“We’re being boarded!” (115)

In this sequel to Leviathan and predecessor to Goliath, Deryn (still assuming the identity of a boy on the airship Leviathan) and his crew have arrived to Istanbul to deliver Dr. Barlow’s mysterious packages. On the way there, Alek and his guard are involved in a misunderstanding that portrays them as treasonous. It doesn’t help when war is officially called against Austria-Hungary, and Alek is forced to flee certain imprisonment. Both Deryn and Alek find themselves enlisting the help of an American reporter there to cover the war, but can they really trust a man whose goal is to publish the secrets that he uncovers? As resistance against Istanbul’s government increases, Deryn and Alek might have gotten in over their heads.

I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I had read Leviathan! The plot just stays with you so strongly, I was able to pick up right where the story left off like I had read it yesterday. Just as fast paced as the first one, Scot Westerfeld keeps the action high with attacks on whale ships, mechanical vehicles that remind me of Star Wars ATAT and ATST walkers (even if they are described as resembling animals), and the characters themselves. We see Deryn engage in some unique hand-to-hand combat as well as some destructive espionage and spy maneuvers. The politics are described extremely well, although they still might prove confusing to some readers. The only quibble I have is that the genetically modified animals appear less unique to me in this book, with quite a few displaying mimicry skills. However, this could easily be accounted for as a skill that is most desired during war-time.

I listened to the audiobook this time, and Alan Cummings did an amazing narration job. But I found myself craving Thompson’s drawings and requesting the print copy just to better visualize what was being described. Once again, Thompson’s drawings bring everything to life and allow readers a glimpse into this fantastical world that Westerfeld has created. Either listening or reading the book, the one supplements the other and you get an amazing experience no matter which method you prefer.

I had this book on the public desk beside me just waiting to be checked in, and one 13-year-old immediately turned it around and was flipping through the pages. When I told him it was the second one but we had the first one in, off he happily trotted, leaving a very satisfied camper who was excited to start the series. I hope he is every bit as involved in it as I am, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the third one. But, alas, I do have to wait a few more days until it’s returned by the current borrower. A fine middle novel with a satisfying ending but an ending that also sets the scene for a much-anticipated sequel, which is already available. Recommend this genre bending book to advanced readers who aren’t quite ready for the guts, gore, or romance of the older teen materials.

Dark of the Moon

Title: Dark of the Moon
Author: Tracy Barrett
ISBN: 9780574581323
Pages: 310 pages
Publisher/Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, c2011.

It isn’t true what they say about my brother–that he ate those children. He never did; he didn’t even mean to hurt them. He wept as he held out their broken bodies, his soft brown eyes pleading with me to fix them, the way I always fixed his dolls and toys. [...]
I couldn’t fix the children, of course. They were dead, their heads flopping on their necks, their arms and legs pale and limp. My mother ordered the slaves to take them away and give them a proper burial, and I held my brother as he sobbed over the loss of his playmates. [...]
When the replacement children died as well, my mother said: No more playmates. My brother wailed and roared in his loneliness, deep beneath the palace, until the Minos took pity and said: Just once more. But not children from Krete. The people would stand for it no more, he said.
And so they came in their long ships. (prologue)

Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, having been born to her mother while had assumed the role of the Goddess and will assume the role when her mother dies. Her brother Asterion is He-Who-Will-Be-Minos, a kind of token king who assists with the rituals where the Goddess promises wealth and prosperity. The problem is that her brother will never be able to perform the necessary duties of the position, having been born with physical and mental deformities. Neighboring communities call him the Minotaur, believing him to be half man and half beast, but Ariadne knows differently. However, she soon finds her loyalties torn between her brother, her village, and her obligations as a new batch of slaves arrive and she struggles to explain her culture to strangers, especially Theseus, the son of the king of Athens.

The most engaging aspect of this book is the unique presentation of the Minotaur myth. Asterion seems to be a cross between the Beast (from Beauty and the Beast) and a highly autistic child. Ariadne’s religion/culture is difficult for Theseus to understand (and I keep using the word unique to describe the whole concept). One woman doesn’t just assume the symbolic role of the Goddess, but every year actually becomes the Goddess in order to promote growth, health, and a good harvest. The rest of the time, the Goddess is separate from the chosen woman, her presence and watchfulness represented by the cycles of the moon. It’s presented as almost like a temporary possession of the person in question. The same can be said for her consort Velchanos, who every year chooses a male body to inhabit for the harvest celebration, during which time the two “deities” consummate their relationship. Then the male is sacrificed by the Minos (similar to a high priest/protector of the Goddess) and the blood will be used to fertilize the fields for the coming year. The first boy and girl who are born to the She-Who-Is-Goddess as a result of the consummation become She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess and He-Who-Will-Be-Minos.

The problem of course arises because Asterion, the Minos-to-be, is completely incapable of fulfilling his duties due to his inability to communicate and his physical limitations. While Ariadne’s initial lack of this realization seems implausible to me, especially considering how involved she is in this culture’s religion and events, it adds political upheaval and tension to the climax of the story. Also adding climax to the story is Theseus’ naivety to the whole blood spilling process, thinking that a pin prick will be enough for this sacrificial society.

Another unique aspect of this book is the way Ariadne’s relationship with Theseus ends. EPILOGUE SPOILER ALERT (highlight the text below if you REALLY want to know):
“Now that I know what love is, I know I felt nothing like that for Theseus. Friendship, yes; gratitude for his kindness to Asterion and for seeing me as a woman and not a goddess in training, yes; but not love. That is something different, and something I hope my friend Theseus will find.” (309-310) It’s interesting to see a character change her idea of her feelings and not get swept away by the gorgeous new stranger (how often have we seen that plot?). Ariadne is a woman who knows what she wants out of society and eventually questions her blind acceptance of a role thrust upon her. She’s a strong female character who doesn’t lose sight of her more feminine qualities.

For readers who are familiar with the fantasy genre, this is some extreme out of the box thinking, and I’m seriously impressed. This wholly original take on a very old story will intrigue fantasy fans and inspire a new way of viewing a well-known and popular myth. What Gregory MaGuire did to Elphaba in Wicked, Tracy Barrett does for the Minotaur and Ariadne in Dark of the Moon. (And with a very cool book cover to boot!)

Rapunzel’s Revenge

Title: Rapunzel’s Revenge
Author: Shannon and Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale
ISBN: 9781599900704
Pages: 144 pages
Publisher/Date: Bloomsbury, c2008.

I didn’t anticipate the whole sticking-a-sack-over-my-head thing.
Her henchman, Brute, used to give me piggyback rides. This time, being thrown over his shoulder wasn’t so fun.
We traveled for days.
It got pretty hot and stinky under that sack.
Brute didn’t let me see again until we were in a forest as green as Mother Gothel’s garden.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of place I’d care to take an afternoon stroll.
Mother Gothel had grown a creepy tree with a hollowed-out room high up, perfect for imprisoning a trouble maker. [...]
So. There I was.
Nothing to do. (20-26)

Just after Rapunzel discovers that Mother Gothel is thankfully not her real mother, and has instead kidnapped her and thrown her birth mother in the mines, she is thrown into a towering tree and left there for years. Using her long hair as a whip and lasso, Rapunzel finally escapes and finds herself helping an ex-thief named Jack. The two pair up to rescue Rapunzel’s mother, but along the way they discover that they’re not the only ones who need a little help in this rough and tumble world.

It’s unique to see Rapunzel in a position of power, as she saves Jack several times. While there are nods to a few other fairy tales (readers find out that Jack used to have a beanstalk), this is not your typical hodge-podge retelling conglomeration like Michael Buckley’s Fairy-Tale Detectives. Instead, the Hales place the story in a setting more similar to a Western than Once Upon a Time, with expressions like “Yee-Haw”, gun slingers, outlaws, travel via wagons and horses, characters who share some aspects of Native American culture, and what could pass as a plantation cotillion.

I like this version that Shannon and Dean Hale have written and Nathan Hale has illustrated. The illustrator is quick to point out that he has no relation to the husband and wife writing duo. It’s an interesting thing to note since the text and the illustrations compliment each other so well. There are times when Shannon and Dean allow Nathan Hale’s drawings to take over and tell the story, which is unique and I wonder who came up with the idea first and how they collaborated to put it all together. The illustrations are bright and vibrant, but their coloring reminds me of a digital paint by numbers rather than containing the shading and tints that come from hand drawn artwork. I don’t know how true that observation might be, not being an artist myself, but that’s the best way I can describe what I see. It seemed slightly out-of-place that the map came 20 pages after Rapunzel and Jack find and use that same aid.

Overall, a speedy read for graphic novel fans and a good first exposure to fantasy fans who aren’t familiar with the format.

The Night Circus

Title: The Night Circus
Author: Erin Morgenstern
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780307938909
Pages: 387 pages
Dics/Cds: 13.5 hours, 11 CDs
Publisher/Date: Doubleday, c2011.
Publication Date: Sept. 13, 2011

The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.
The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds and crimsons to be seen. No color at all, save for the neighboring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colorless world. Even what little ground is visible from outside is black or white, painted or powdered, or treated with some other circus trick.
But it is not open for business. Not just yet.(3)

Celia Bowen is apprenticed to her magician father. Marco has been adopted from an orphanage by a competing magician. While they both are separately aware that they are being prepared for a “game”, neither one of them are knowledgable about the rules. When they finally meet through their roles in the formation of a circus, Le Cirque des Reves, Marco realizes instantly that this is the woman he’s been training to beat. But as the years pass with no clear winner or end in sight, both Celia and Marco become tired and press for more information from their mentors. When the rules of the game finally become clear, they realize that they and the circus might have more to lose than they originally thought.

You just can’t go wrong with Jim Dale as a narrator! His voice is seductive when describing the love that two of the characters share. The scenes where he takes on the voice of the reader visiting the circus is also perfectly pitched, making the writing sound like a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel rather than a regular book. Picking up the printed copy and reading those opening lines months later, I still hear his voice and narration, drawing readers into the mystery and magic that make up the circus.

It helps that he has amazing writing to fall back on. It’s no wonder that everyone is clamoring to claim a copy of this debut novel by Erin Morgenstern. The descriptions of the circus include not just the sights and sounds but the tastes and textures. Circus tents and their contents play a massive role in the tale, and Morgenstern intersperses the tale with second person point of view narration detailing their make and design, which range from the more conventional fortune-teller, magician, and suspended acrobats to a fantastical library of memories triggered by smells and a wishing tree lit by candles. The magic and amazement are palatable, and I was left wishing that such a circus truly existed just so that I could see it for myself.

The publishers tip the author’s hat a little too early in my opinion, because based on the jacket copy readers go into the book knowing that Marco and Celia are going to fall in love. How the competition plays out is a series of interrelated and complicated actions that leave not one person responsible, but also prevents everyone from being wholly knowledgeable about what exactly happened. The mystery, intrigue, and romance dance around each other, until they draw to a climatic yet satisfying conclusion.

One of ten books chosen for the Alex Award, which is given to an adult book that has special appeal to young adults, this is a fascinating read for teens, and a patron I recommended it to raves about it months after the fact. You can contribute to the experience by listening to Erin Morgenstern’s playlist, which she lists in an interview with Largehearted Boy and makes available on her own website.


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