If Cinderella were an assassin, she would be Celaena Sardothien. This series follows 18 year old Celaena as she maneuvers through the high court of Endovier. Celaena finds herself in this situation after Prince Dorian rescues her from a life of hard labor in the salt mines. However, in return for her life, she must be the Prince’s champion in a competition to find the new court assassin. If she fails, her life is forfeited. In the meantime, both Prince Dorian and Captain Westfall find themselves drawn to the mysterious assassin. The series puts an original twist on the classic “princess” tale. Celaena is complex and conflicted and just wants everyone to leave her alone. Each book paints a captivating picture of a mysterious individual with complicated secrets. She is the perfect heroine: spunky, well-armed, intelligent, feminine, and knows her own worth. The third book, Heir of Fire, hit shelves on September 2.
Prince Ash. Need I say more? This series follows the coming of age adventures of Meghan Chase. Now Meghan is no ordinary teenage, she is the illegitimate daughter of Oberon, King of the Summer Fey. When the Iron Fey kidnap her half-brother, Meghan embarks on a desperate search through the Nevernever to find him before time runs out. The main narrative follows Meghan as she adapts to life in the Nevernever, her role as a fey princess/future queen, and the fight against the Iron Fey. The secondary story arc deals with Meghan’s romance with Prince Ash, the Winter Prince. Summer and Winter Fey are forbidden to socialize, much less pursue a romantic connection. Fortunately, this story has a better ending than Romeo & Juliet. Robin Goodfellow, aka Puck, serves as the secondary male lead and sarcastic sidekick. I like this series because the main characters mature over time. Each character has to struggle with loss, familial hostility, and uncomfortable decisions. Prince Ash is nearly too perfect, not that I am complaining.
Han Alistair is a reformed thief who struggles to provide for his mother and sister. He only possesses one item of any value, a pair of thick silver cuffs around each wrist. However, he cannot remove them and they are clearly magicked as they grow with him. One day, Han and Dancer (his best friend) are confronted by three hot headed magicians. Han manages to steal one of their amulets, setting of a continuous game of cat and mouse. Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna finally returns to court to fulfill her duties as the heir to the Gray Wolf Throne. However, her mother wants her to marry a suitor who stands against everything the throne has fought to maintain. This series follows Hans and Raisa as they both come to terms with their destinies and the expectations of their elders. This series really excels at showing that sometimes the villain is more grey than black; and even heroes struggle with morals. I enjoyed the Seven Realms series because the narrative effectively combines adventure with political intrigue and cultural tensions. And it has a satisfying ending.
Never watch the movie, it is a cinematic nightmare. Eragon is a fifteen-year-old boy who lives in a small village. While on a hunting trip, Eragon discovers an unhatched dragon egg. Flash forward and Saphira emerges from her egg. Under the tutelage of the mysterious Brom, Eragon becomes the second known Rider in Alagaësia. Throughout the series, King Galbatorix moves to conquer the neighboring kingdom and kill/capture Eragon. Meanwhile, Eragon deals with the political wrangling of the dwarves, elves, and humans. The second book, Eldest, deals with Eragon’s training with the elves. The main secondary narrative deals with Roran (Eragon’s cousin) and the human resistance against Galbatorix. This series has everything: swords, magic, elves, dragons, folklore, multiple training sequences, unrequited love, obtuse witches, and a made-up-language. I love this series because the plot is easy to follow and the story is engaging; though the ending was disappointing.
I stumbled upon this series over the summer and it is fantastic. The series is a retelling of the “Naraudh Lar-Chanë”, the Riddle of the Treesong and is set in the mythical world of Edil-Amarandh. Maerad, the main character, grew up in slavery after the sacking of the Bard school of Pellinor. One day while toiling in the stables of her owner, Maerad encounters Cadvan of the Light (a travelling Bard). Sensing that Maerad possesses bardic potential, Cadvan rescues her from slavery. Turns out Maerad has the potential to be the most powerful Bard in history. But she lacks training and is plagued by self-doubt. With an ancient evil rising out of the shadows, Maerad and Cadvan are suddenly thrust into a war torn country. Further complicating things is widespread corruption in the Bardic Schools. Normal countrymen view Bards as harbingers of doom and hardship. What I liked about this series is Maerad’s struggle with self-identity and self-doubt. This struggle adds depth and prevents the character from descending into caricature.
Every now and then I decide to explore genres outside of fantasy and science fiction. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation Series, a regency romance. Now when I say romance, I mean: well-written, plot driven, believable heroines/heroes, and minimal R-rated content. Willig’s writing style is fun and fast paced, she focuses on characterization and plot development. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is the 11th entry in the Carnation Series.
Themes Explored: independence, Halloween, the supernatural satire, societal conventions, grief, romance, love, letting go
Synopsis: It is October of 1806 and Sally Fitzhugh quickly tires of another year of London high society. Mainly she despises the insipid commentary about the bestselling novel The Convent of Orsino, which has sparked a vampire craze. Soon rumors begin swirling that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire. Sally cannot resist a dare to prove such accusations false. While attending a ball at Belliston Square, she boldly walks into the Duke’s gardens and meets Lucien.
Lucien, his grace the Duke of Belliston, has returned home to seek answers regarding his parents’ death. According to society, everything from sorcery to high treason contributed to the scandalous murder. His fearsome reputation as a nightwalker serves him well in this pursuit, until a young woman is killed. And on her neck is a set of fang marks. Is Lucien really a vampire or something more nefarious at work?
Review: The Pink Carnation Series is similar to the The Scarlet Pimpernel series by Baroness Emma Orczy. Both follow English aristocrats defying convention and becoming involved in spy rings/revolutions. Ms. Willig uses a split narrative, each book follows an aristocratic spy and charts the romance between Eloise Kelly and Colin Selwick. Eloise is working on her PhD and the dissertation is about English aristocratic spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Each book follows whatever spy Eloise happens to be researching. Colin is an English landowner whose ancestors are the spies Eloise is investigating. They hit it off (eventually) and each successive book builds upon their relationship. Anyways, I will not review their part of the story as it will ruin the previous 10 books.
Sally has a pet stoat named Lady Florence Oblong. As a fan of ferrets, I fully approve of any heroine with a similar pet. Some historical/regency novels tend to have either stilted or formal language, which drags down the plot. Lucien and Sally come right off the page thanks to some lively exchanges. Ms. Willig always makes me feel like I am experiencing the narrative right next to the main characters. I ended up reading the book in one evening because I had to know what happened next. Also, I love spoof novels. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla reminded me of Northanger Abbey. Both novels poke fun at two prolific literary trends: vampires and Gothic thrills. As with the rest of The Pink Carnation books, the novel is well paced and the characters are highly relatable.
Colin and Eloise only had a handful of chapters. They deserve a standalone novel, or at least a novella. I hope Pink XIV contains more “modern” scenes. While I appreciate the heavy character development, I felt the plot was a little thin. The story was excellent; I just think it needed more substance. Some of the supporting characters-Lucien’s former tutor- came across as thinly veiled vehicles for information dumping. Not that this is a problem, I just would have liked more robust minor characters. If your looking for some light hearted diversion, I highly recommend checking out the Pink Carnation Series.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, NAL Trade, 2014, ISBN: 9780451414731
Every Monday I will either review a movie or an album/music group. To start things off is a review of Strange Desire.
A couple days ago, my brother and I ventured downtown to attend a Bleachers concert. Bleachers is Jack Antonoff’s (best known as the lead guitarist of the indie band fun.) new project. The first album, Strange Desire, was released on July 15 of this year. First of all, I am not a huge fan of fun. I have heard Some Nights and We Are Young one too many times. So I approached Bleachers with trepidation. Fortunately, the album pleasantly surprised me. One of the problems I have with modern pop music is that most artists sound identical. When I hear a song I would like to recognize the artist without having to google the lyrics. Thankfully Bleachers has a unique sound (too me at least) and I am able to recognize them anytime a song plays on the radio/Pandora.
Like its name suggests, Bleachers deals with themes everyone struggles with, especially in high school. Most of the songs evoke feelings of loneliness, confusion, sitting alone behind the bleachers; however, the choruses are catchy and upbeat. The lead single, I Wanna Get Better, has an earnest and optimistic feeling. My favorite lyric is: “I didn’t know I was lonely ‘til I saw your face, I didn’t know I was broken ‘til I wanted to change.” It is distinguishable from most other pop songs and memorable.Click here to listen.
My favorite song off the album is Like A River Runs. The chorus begins with this lyric: “When I fall asleep I can see your face, what I lost in you I will not replace, I could run away I could let them down, but I will remember your light.” The song echoes the rest of the album in that it is full of vigor, sweeping vocals, and a satisfying buildup. Click here to listen.
Strange Desire is one of the few albums where I have enjoyed almost every song on the album. There is this one duet with Yoko Ono (I’m Ready to Move On) that I did not care for. However, the rest of the album is fantastic and I hope that there are many more album releases in the future. Even better the band sounds the same live as they do on the album.
I am obsessed with fantasy fiction. This addiction probably arose from childhood. Growing up I wanted to either be a Jedi Knight or a dragon rider. Unfortunately, neither of these fields is currently hiring. I am eternally disappointed. Anyways, it has taken me about three years but I have read three-fifths of my local library’s fantasy/sci-fi collection. So I am obviously an expert by now. What I find frustrating is that fantasy and science fiction have been merged into one unwieldy genre. Fantasy and science fiction are incredibly unique genres. I know there are sub-genres- like science fantasy-which merge the two, but there are intrinsic differences.
For instance J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy series and Isaac Asimov’s Robot Series is a science fiction. What is the difference? After all both genres do not seem rooted in reality. I am glad you asked! Science fiction and fantasy both explore alternate realities; however, science fiction expands upon our reality and fantasy is generally pure make believe. Science fiction logically projects modern technological and societal trends into the distant future. The pioneers of this genre include Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Orson Scott Card, and Robert A. Heinlein. While there are various sub-genres, the main two are “hard” and “soft”. The narratives in “hard” science fiction are driven by fictional advances in:
“Soft” science fiction tends to rely more on the social sciences:
Well-known authors of this sub-genre include:
On the other hand, fantasy narratives tend to rely upon magic and the supernatural. The majority of fantasy novels and novellas take place within imaginary worlds or sometimes, parallel universes. Fantasy is distinguishable from science fiction because scientific advances rarely influence the primary plot device. For the most part, fantasy worlds romanticize the medieval time period. Common fantasy elements include:
Well-developed fantasy worlds explain the presence of magic-or lack of- and rarely utilize modern society as a plot point. Some of my favorite fantasy authors are:
Science Fantasy is a genre which utilizes motifs and themes from both science fiction and fantasy. For instance, both Star Wars and Star Trek can be classified as science fantasy. Calling them purely fantasy denies the scientific elements. Lasers, droids, ray guns, the Millennium Falcon, black holes, red matter, pod racing, intergalactic travel, warp speed, hyper-speed, and light sabers all fall under the heading of science fiction. However certain elements-the force, Vulcan mind reading, Ewoks, Wookies, Klingons, Khan, the Borg, Jabba the Hut- fall under the fantasy genre. This particular meshing of science fiction and fantasy is really a genre unto itself. The most popular subgenres are: urban fantasy, Gaslamp fantasy, planetary romance, post-apocalypse, steam punk, space operas, cyber punk, dying earth, and interstellar exploration.Some of my favorite authors in this genre include:
I picked this book up after I heard it was going to be adapted into a screenplay. Generally I prefer to read the book before seeing the movie. The Queen of the Tearling is Erika Johansen’s debut novel.
Warning:This review does contain some spoilers
Themes Explored: coming of age, ethics of ruling, loyalty, love, family, loss, illiteracy, insecurity, trust, religion/lack of, self-destructive cycle of humanity, and slavery
Synopsis: The story begins with nineteen year old Kelsea Raleigh Glynn returning to her kingdom. Due to threats from Tearling’s powerful neighbor, Kelsea lived in exile in order to protect her life. For the past nineteen years, Kelsea’s uncle has ruled in her stead. However, the Red Queen, the sorceress queen of the neighboring Mortmesme, controls Tearling Regent. Most of the plot deals with Kelsea’s attempt to reclaim her throne, earn the loyalty of her subjects, obliterate the memory of her ineffective mother, and keep the Red Queen from conquering Tearling. Along the way Kelsea also deals with the realities of growing up, the ethics of ruling effectively and fairly, and adapting to life as a Queen of an impoverished and illiterate country.
Review: In a market saturated with dystopian themes, The Queen of the Tearling presents a fresh perspective. Instead of taking place in a dystopian society, Ms. Johansen is exploring civilization after the fall of an advanced society. Initially the setting feels medieval but the novel actually occurs in the future. After an environmental disaster destroyed the known world, a group of idealist flee and start anew society free from technology and modern society. The main narrative deals with how this civilization has matured since the founding. The secondary subplot deals with the ramifications of an illiterate society. Few of the original founders brought the written word to the new utopia. As a result, the society depicted is one where fewer and fewer people value the written word. Ms. Johansen’s motivation derives from the modern trend of people not bothering to voluntarily read. The novel merely takes this trends and projects the logical conclusion.
This novel works because of the fantastic characterization of Kelsea. Normally I find fictional teenage girls to either be excessively whiny or unconvincingly pragmatic. However, I felt that Ms. Johansen managed to find the right balance between teenage insecurity and the emerging self-confidence when fleshing out Kelsea’s character. The supporting characters were developed enough to be compelling, but not overly distracting. However, it would be nice if future installments fleshed out the characters of Lazarus and The Fetch. Both have the possibility to be excellent secondary primary characters. Furthermore the plot did not have any glaring holes and moved along at a nice pace. I was not bored and could not put the book down until I finished the final chapter.
I know Ms. Johansen is writing a trilogy and needs to keep some plot points undeveloped at the moment. However, there are several parts in the narrative where I would have preferred answers to questions. For instance, is Tearling on Earth, and if so, where? Also, where did magic come from? I am pretty sure that modern society has yet to develop anything remotely similar to fictional magic, so where did this wellspring of magic spring up from?
The Red Queen is the main villain of the story, yet her motivations are not articulated. A villain is only compelling if we actually see them plotting and manipulating events. Standing around philosophizing is not the best way to develop the antagonist. I hope the next book deals more with her rise to power, or else I will be highly disappointed. I can only support the hero/heroine if I fully understand the villain. While the first book established Kelsea’s rise to power, I hope the next couple of books delve more deeply into the world of Tearling. I think The Queen of the Tearling is one of the better Young Adult fantasy books published this year. I have high hopes for the next installment.
The Queen of the Tearling, Harper, 2014, ISBN: 9780062290366
The Vanishing (2014) is author Wendy Webb’s third modern Gothic novel with a supernatural tinge. Like The Tale of Halcyon Crane (2010) and The Fate of Mercy Alban (2013), The Vanishing is about a young woman exploring a mysterious event from the past.
Warning: This review contains spoilers
Synopsis: The book begins by depicting a séance gone wrong in 1875. Then the story flashes forward to present day Chicago. Julia Bishop is without friends or prospects after her husband, Jeremy, commits suicide after his Ponzi scheme collapses. One day Adrian Sinclair shows up on Julia’s doorstep with a job offer. Adrian offers Julia a job as companion to his mother. Julia hesitates over the offer until Adrian mentions that his mother is gothic novelist Amaris Sinclair. The catch is Amaris supposedly died 10 years ago. So Julia travels to Havenwood, the Sinclair Estate located near Lake Superior in Minnesota. Julia becomes deeply unsettled by her uncanny resemblance to a portrait of the medium who visited Havenwood in 1857 and disappeared. Strange events follow Julia as she races to untangle the past before it it too late.
Review: As with Ms. Webb’s previous books, The Vanishing moves at a relatively fast pace. The narrative is enjoyable but not overly deep. However, I felt that the story could have been infinitely better. Ms. Webb hinted at several facts and then never followed thorough. This is incredibly frustrating as I hate having more questions than answers at the end of a novel. I have three major problems with The Vanishing.
First, while I am a fan of split time narrative, there are not enough scenes depicting the events in 1857. Ms. Webb continually made veiled references to this fated séance and never followed through. How long had Andrew McCullough and the medium Seraphina been in a relationship? Did Andrew ever try to leave the estate? If so, then why? Did he ever try to find Seraphina? All of these questions could have answered if the novel was about 200 pages longer. Without this back story, the modern parallels lack the needed emotional and dramatic depth.
Second, is Drew a ddescendantor the original Andrew? Throughout the story Ms. Webb makes hints that Andrew is actually immortal. Then she draws attention to the fact that Drew never leaves the estate and looks exactly like Andrew’s portrait. So are they the same person or descendants? Frankly I was quite annoyed that this was never fully explained. I thought Drew had the potential to be a compelling character. Yet he was shortchanged in the development department. Another parallel Ms.Webb draws is that Julia is nearly identical to the medium Seraphina. Low and behold the old Andrew fell head over heels in love with Seraphina. So it is no surprise that Drew and Julia have an instant attachment. Also turns out that Julia is a descendant of this mysterious Seraphina. So if Drew is the supposedly immortal Andrew, he apparently just bided his time to wait for Seraphina’s lookalike descendant to arrive. How romantic. Instead of chasing the love of his life, he just waited for the newer model to arrive. I found this very frustrating. I just want some answers! Is he or is he not immortal?
Third, there was this very weird back story about Julia being in an insane asylum. Apparently Amaris Sinclair decided to have a séance in order to finally banish the evil entity that Seraphina had summoned back in 1857. Turns out that Julia was the medium Amaris hired. When she first arrived, she and Drew fell in love and everything seemed to be going dandy. Then the séance occurred and the evil turned out to be more powerful than Julia thought. It attached Adrian’s daughter and nearly killed Julia. This resulted in Adrian’s wife divorcing him and Julia having a complete mental breakdown. Julia ends up in the asylum with no memory of her life. She ends up befriending a fellow patient named Jeremy. They get married and leave the asylum. Flash forward ten years and Jeremy is dead and Adrian comes knocking. Turns out the Sinclair family has been tracking Julia’s movements all this time and paid her health bills. They did this because Julia had become “just like family” after staying for one week. In the present, Julia is at the Sinclair residence and is experiencing severe déjà vu because everything feels familiar and everyone treats her like a family member. Julia does not know that Adrian and Amaris brought her back home in an effort to restore her mind. Anyways, Julia keeps hearing voices and seeing ghosts. Once she finds out that she is a medium, she decides to take on the resident demon, which conveniently only haunts two rooms. After spending a decade without knowing herself or practicing magic, Julia suddenly becomes an expert medium and banishes the demon forever. She then regains her memories, declares her love for Drew, and decides to stay. Oh, and Adrian’s daughter inexplicably returns and to declare her love for her father.
The ending was bizarre and incredibly rushed. All throughout the novel there is this intense build up and hints of suspense. Then the climax arrives and it feels incredibly underwritten. Julia defeats this “powerful” evil in about three pages. And then everything is tied up in a neat little bow. The Vanishing could have been a decent novel if Ms. Webb had drawn out the mystery a little more and elaborated on the events in 1857. And I really wanted to know more of Drew’s backstory. I really dislike it when one of the romantic leads is little more than a card board cutout. Also, I am disappointed because Ms.Webb had a compelling narrative but poor execution.
The Vanishing, Hyperion, January 21, 2014, ISBN 978-1401341947
Musings on Books and movies
Musings on Books and movies