Often compared to Tolkien, Ursula K. LeGuin is a true visionary. This book tells the deceptively simple tale of a kid named Ged who lives in a magical realm called Earthsea. He is destined to be the greatest wizard in the world, but still has a lot of growing up to do. After meddling with the powers of chaos,  he accidentally summons an eldritch creature from the outer dark, and has to put it back there. In the process, LeGuin tells a compelling coming of age story, and  by combining this with a high fantasy story, she sets the groundwork for Harry Potter (Hogwarts is suspiciously similar to the Roke Island wizard academy Ged trains at), Eragon, The Legend of Zelda, (perhaps unconsciously) Star Wars, and many, many others.

The thing that defines this from other high fantasy works like The Lord of the Rings is how well developed the character of Ged is. Whereas Frodo (and even Harry Potter sometimes) got through their adventures simply by “being there”, Ged has to constantly be taking responsibility for his actions because the otherworldly menace that haunts him exists partly because of his own shortcomings, making this also one of the first “existential” high fantasy books. Ged’s own angsty brooding over his own failings did, and will continue to resonate with modern day teenagers. On top of all that, the cast of characters has a surprising amount of ethnic diversity, for a fantasy novel. Whereas A Song of Ice and Fire or something along those lines usually has a nearly all white dramatis personae, Earthsea has a myriad of different cultures and ethnic groups represented. Although it may sound like I’m bashing fantasy, I’m not. I love it, which is why I so enjoyed  A Wizard of Earthsea. It revels in and codifies some of the cliches of its own genre. Not only a good fantasy tale, but also a cracking good YA novel.

Grade:
A

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Libba Bray returns to the form she does best, the “teen historical occult thriller with romantic elements”. This latest book is basically an extended Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode set in the 1920′s, ,involving a rising demon, evil cultists, and a cyborg. But make no mistake: this isn’t a moon-eyed Mortal Instruments-esque fantasy. This is a well researched, well plotted thriller, that doubles as a luxuriant historical novel. While it simply shuffles and deals old occult fiction tropes (for how many mystical cliches are in here, I’m surprised Cthulhu and Aleister Crowley didn’t turn up),the excellent characterization and impeccable period detail shine past that little dispute.

There are also some great spooky moments that actually frightened me, and portentous foreshadowing that, unfortunately, partly set up a sequel. There isn’t any of the hyper-self aware smugness that accompanies some YA books (coughHolly Blackcough) which is a definite plus. Although some weird, pulled-it-out-of-thin-air-at-3:00 AM plot twists turn up (the aforementioned cyborg), this is overall, a very good book.

Grade:
A

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On a whim, I decided to state my views on that perennial children’s literary staple, A Wrinkle in Time, and in thinking over, I realized how weird it is. The main characters meet winged centaurs; travel in time, space, and other dimensions; visit alien dictatorships run by godlike beings, and have metaphor after metaphor thrown their way. This book was as frightening, and emotionally taxing as all get out when I was 6 or so, especially near the end, but I remember really enjoying all the cosmic concepts set up during it, and strongly disliking the sort of Christ-like child prodigy MacGuffin character Charles Wallace.

Now looking back on it, I didn’t realize how insanely creative it was, and how well developed all the characters, even Charles Wallace are. The sequels, A Wind in the Door, Many Waters, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet are okay, I suppose, and introduce interesting ideas, including the Echthroi, the strange alien worlds hidden inside Charles Wallace’s mitochondria, and a heavy dose of magic, but they don’t measure up to the sheer inventiveness and energy of the original. A modern classic.

Grade: A

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Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Hardcover, 404 pages

Published August 7th 2012 by Bloomsbury USA Children’s
Source:Library

After serving out a year of hard labor in the salt mines of Endovier for her crimes, 18-year-old assassin Celaena Sardothien is dragged before the Crown Prince. Prince Dorian offers her her freedom on one condition: she must act as his champion in a competition to find a new royal assassin.
Her opponents are men—thieves and assassins and warriors from across the empire, each sponsored by a member of the kings council. If she beats her opponents in a series of eliminations, she’ll serve the kingdom for three years and then be granted her freedom.
Celaena finds her training sessions with the captain of the guard, Westfall, challenging and exhilirating. But she’s bored stiff by court life. Things get a little more interesting when the prince starts to show interest in her… but it’s the gruff Captain Westfall who seems to understand her best.
Then one of the other contestants turns up dead… quickly followed by another. Can Celaena figure out who the killer is before she becomes a victim? As the young assassin investigates, her search leads her to discover a greater destiny than she could possibly have imagined. – Goodreads

My Opinion: I really enjoyed this. It was fast paced. Sarah J. Maas really knows how to work the reader so that they continue to read. As the story progressed I made a prediction or guess about a third of the way in the book and I think I am right based on what I read in the end and one specific quote from Elena at the end, I think supports it very well. I liked the love triangle between Calaena, the Crown Prince and the Captain of the Guard. I love how author allowed for Calaena to develop feelings for both but just happened that she feels more for the “forbidden” person. If my prediction is correct… that relationship is even more forbidden and threatening(?) to the royal family.

Now for the plot… I love how it starts that all I have to stay. I love the way that we meet her a death/labor camp and then we see how she transforms herself as she trains and become more like herself or how she used to be before the camp. I love how the story ended. I love that they had to go that far, because of how afraid they were of her abilities. I think that Nehemia and others, must have thought that it was pretty funny that for one little girl there are so many guards following her around. What I was the most impressed with was that she was able to keep her spirit as well as her escape attempt. I think it is amazing that she was able to make it so far as the wall basically while others could only make it three feet. It says a lot about her skills and the fact that she did that after six months in there, says that even more.

My favorite character had to be Calaena without a doubt. I love strong female characters. And Calaena, she is the epitome of that. Some of the things that she does are awesome. She isn’t just fighting skills, she is also extremely clever and smart and knows that to defeat an enemy, she needs to study her opponent and “hit” them where it most hurts. I think that is going to be her plan for the King. Another character that I really liked was Nehemia. She is a beloved princess by her people and that fact that the King was not able to strip her of her title after he conquered the land says something about how much power she truly has. I love that she is mysterious and that she knows how to fight, without others noticing but feeling the pain none the less. Overall, the book was amazing and I can not wait for the next one to come out. I think this is one of the MUST READS of the year.
Overall: 5+ out of 5

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Before about three years ago, I had no idea M.T. Anderson had a career outside of writing the maniacally brilliant Thrilling Tales series, which deftly subverted and thoroughly deconstructed the tropes and conventions of 20th century children’s literature, and the eerie fantasy novel The Game of   Sunken Places which also gives a spin on old cliches. As I found out, he had also written several edgy books for young adults as well, including the entertaining 18th century literature pastiche Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the bleak vampire novel Thirsty, and this book. Jeez louise, was I not prepared for this book! It’s about a kid who lives in a society where vampiric, oppressive corporations have taken over the world, and are slowly destroying it, through environmental destruction, total impingement of all perceivable civil liberties, and a chip implanted in people’s head called “the feed” that is basically a parasitic computer disguised as a part of the brain. He and his girlfriend try to resist the feed, but, in short, it doesn’t work.

I thought I was accustomed to dystopian fiction. Of dystopian fiction, I’ve read  1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, The Giver, and Snow Crash. Make no mistake, whatever their resolution was, these books were depressing. But nothing I’ve read, dystopian or otherwise was as soul-crushingly dour as this book. It was funny, and well written, but it was also gut-wrenchingly painful.

At the end of Brave New World, 1984, and all the other books I named, there was a spark of hope, or an outright happy ending. At the end of Feed there is none of that. Just suffocating paranoia and despair. Only the skin-crawlingly awful endings of the Series of Unfortunate Events books compare. Even despite its 2002 publishing date, and its Bush-era malaise, it’s scarily prescient of the smartphone age, which disturbs me to the core. Although, this book is witty, and well observed, and it captures perfectly a society where the attributes of today’s teens were taken to their logical extreme.

There are a lot of blackly hilarious moments, such as the “Hipster Nostalgia Feedback Syndrome”, and the “Nike Speech Tattoo”, that lighten up the darker moments, but an overwhelming sense of dread really pervades this book. The main character isn’t very likable, but he’s a product of his environment. Like with a lot of Anderson’s books, the other characters aren’t very well developed, but they are rounder than other of his books. There were a lot of great, acrid bits in this, but I would have liked this book better if it wasn’t just so darn heartbreaking.

Grade: B+

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“The Books of Magic” is basically about a bespectacled British kid from a dysfunctional family situation finding out he’s a powerful wizard from benevolent adult wizards. Sound familiar? But this boy wizard’s name is Tim Hunter and he technically lives in the DC universe (well, a more mature version of it called “Vertigo” where various magical things happen more often, and people can drop unbleeped f-bombs:  a little like the HBO of the DC universe). He meets a couple DC magicians, and Morpheus and Death from Gaiman’s Sandman  series, but other than that this is more of a picaresque trip through various magical realms that Neil Gaiman must have drudged from Bulfinch’s Mythology, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and old issues of The Phantom Stranger than an actual comic book story in the DC universe.

Like a lot of Gaiman’s comic book work, he makes the story soothingly plotless, and is more of an opportunity for him to throw in about two mythological allusions per 3 panels rather than tell a story with actual rising action, climax, and falling action. Tim Hunter’s questioning attitude keeps it real throughout, though, and Gaiman doesn’t let the non-plot get away from him too much to lose good character moments and sneak in a good joke. It also works great as a story of Tim’s maturity, through its chronicling of his acceptance of his magical destiny. Some standout sections include when Tim meets Merlin which portrays the famous wizard as a hormonal teenager, Doctor Occult bringing Tim through the various magical realms, and his interaction with perennially foulmouthed curmudgeon John Constantine, who seems to always be slinking in and out  of Gaiman and other Vertigo writers’ work, and here, he adds a bit of salty flavor to the ponderous orations on magic that the other characters make.

The part where Tim travels to the future with DC soothsayer Mister E would be less irritating and more interesting, if Mister E wasn’t a self righteous jerkface who spends his whole segment browbeating Tim about morality and his destiny. Other than that, the art was good, but some of it was painted weirdly, which was off putting, and a standout was former Sandman artist Charles Vess. Overall, an ephemeral, but ultimately charming coming of age tale.

Grade: B

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Here we are again. I’m yet again reviewing a John Green book, but this time, he’s writing it with fellow YA author David Levithan. It tells the stories of two separate people named Will Grayson (who live in Naperville and Evanston, Illinois, respectively), whose paths eventually cross due to a chance encounter, and whose lives are eventually changed for the better because of it. This book seems disparate in tone at times, because the chapters alternate between the two Will Graysons’ perspectives, but both perspectives complement each other.

David Levithan’s chapters (about the Naperville Will Grayson) tell a delicate, melancholy story about coming of age, and a gay youth’s quest for meaning and love, but is also bitterly funny. This Will Grayson knows he has made mistakes, is in touch with himself, but not with others, which adds a sharp edge to his sometimes laugh out loud internal monologue. His personality has the right balance of jaded sarcasm and emotional vulnerability to make me actually care about him.

John Green’s sections (about the Evanston Will Grayson), like usual, are a sharp,fizzy screwball comedy of manners about a straight teen’s identity crisis that zips along at a nice pace. My main issue with his sections is the same issue I always have had with Green’s work: the main character is annoying. This Will Grayson is a non-committal, indecisive, mealymouthed milquetoast whose various neuroses irritate me like usual. But also as usual, Green writes the dialogue and narration outstandingly well, and his typical bitingly witty, John-Hughes-meets-Woody-Allen blend of comedy seems to be surprisingly looser and less glum in this work.

A standout in both plots is the character of Tiny Cooper, a gay youth that has such an outsize personality, that I’m surprised he doesn’t have his own spinoff book yet. The way the two threads come together is marvelously realistic, but also fairytale-y enough to be fun, and the ending is entertainingly optimistic. Overall,  a great collaboration worth checking out.

Grade: A-

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