Green Rider

Green Rider by Kristen Britain

Expelled from school after getting into a fight with a noble lord’s son, Karigan G’ladheon decides it’s time to leave the famed Selium academy and return home. Too bad fate has something else in store for her… Making her way home on foot, Karigan encounters a wounded Green Rider, a member of the King’s messenger service, sworn to deliver messages of import no matter the challenge. Finding that the Greenie is mortally wounded, Karigan agrees to complete the messenger’s final task, to deliver a message that others would kill to intercept. Facing dangerous creatures, magical foes, and countless dangers, Karigan fights her way to King Zachary’s castle, accepting the call of the Rider.


Green Rider was an interesting read with just the right amount of fantasy and adventure to keep me engaged and up into the night despite a head cold. It was a completely serendipitous find, just a cover that attracted my attention on PaperBackSwap. It has the feel of a Tamora Pierce novel, as if Karigan belonged among the sheroes of Tortall. I find this is quite a good thing :). Unfortunately, I did not realize that it is part of a series, so now I’ve sucked myself into another series… I keep telling myself to stop doing that.

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede are a humorous series of fantasy novels featuring a strong-willed princess, a dragon who loves cherries jubilee, a witch who is immune to melting by water, and a motley assortment of magical misfits and mischief makers.

Dealing with Dragons
In which Princess Cimorene decides that she does not want to be married off, thank you very much, and would much rather be a dragon’s princess. Cimorene meets the she-dragon Kazul and gets to display the many skills she acquired when not learning to be a proper princess and gets to put her quick-thinking to use when a group of dastardly wizards decide to get a little too involved in Dragon politics.

Searching for Dragons
In which the wizards return to stir up all kinds of trouble, King Kazul goes missing, and King Mendanbar shows off his sword. Cimorene, now Head Cook and Librarian to King Kazul, teams up with King Mendanbar to avert disaster and find her friend, going on an adventure that takes them across the Enchanted Forest and introduces them to new friends and foes.

Calling on Dragons
In which Queen Cimorene and King Mendanbar have some trouble with an enchanted sword, King Kazul loses her patience with the wearisome Society of Wizards, and the witch Morwen finds a giant rabbit in her garden. There’s always a new challenge to be met in the Enchanted Forest and nothing can stop Cimorene & Co. from facing it head on.

Talking to Dragons
In which the Enchanted Forest is duly enchanted and Cimorene sends her son Daystar on a quest to set things right with the help of the Sword of the Sleeping King. He encounters numerous trials along the way, faces meddlesome wizards, and makes new friends. With the help of the fire-witch Shiara, a young dragon, and the cat Nightwitch, Daystar is ready complete his journey and discover the truth of his birth.

This is a fantastic series! It is witty and ironic, the dialogue is cleverly constructed and amusing, and the characters break with tradition in a good way. Throughout the series, Wrede makes light of the genre, referring to well-known legends, myths, fairy tales, as well as more recent additions to the fantasy canon like The Wizard of Oz. Wizards are melted with buckets of soapy water and lemon juice, Rumpelstiltskin’s descendant decides to open a boarding school for all the children he acquires on the job, and all the Jacks just keep stealing from the friendly giants.

Cimorene is a no-nonsense sort of girl and a very strong character who stands out as a fantasy heroine. Her relationship with Mendanbar built on affection and mutual admiration; Mendanbar respects and supports her choices and listens to what she has to say, even if he doesn’t agree with her. Kazul is a wonderful matriarch and makes a very logical case for female king-hood. Meanwhile, Morwen is the perfect example of the perfectly content cat lady who does exactly what she wants to do.

There are many more memorable characters in the series and some great moments. It’s the sort of YA series I wish would receive some more attention as I think it can appeal to boys as well as girls and provides some subtle lessons in gender equality.

Overall, this series has become one of my favorites and I will be looking out for more Wrede when next I go to the book store (FYI… Two of Wrede’s Regency fantasy books are being reissued as a single volume called A Matter of Magic. It’s already on my wishlist 🙂 )

More than an eligible princess

I love reading fantasy novels that feature strong female characters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is a serious bias towards male characters in fantasy, not that I have anything against the brave, heroic, princes and knights, but I like to see a girl who does something more than serve as the damsel/object of desire. Last summer, I posted a request for recommendations on Yahoo!Answers and I was introduced to the novels of Patricia C. Wrede, which feature some of the best “girls who do things” in fantasy.

This week, I found copies of Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles in a used bookstore and they’re wonderful! I couldn’t put Dealing with Dragons down and Searching for Dragons is just as engaging. I’ll write up a proper post on the series when I’m done, but I think Dragons has definitely earned its place on my shelf (a coveted spot indeed, as I’ve been shelf-cleaning)

Spirit and Fire

As far as strong female characters go, Kristin Cashore’s Fire is pretty near perfect. After reading Graceling a few months ago, I was eager to read Fire but I was unsure what to expect. A companion to Graceling rather than a prequel, Fire takes place in a land beyond the seven kingdoms known as the Dells. The Dellians have no knowledge of their neighbors beyond the frozen mountains until a strange boy, a Graceling, appears in the kingdom. But that is another story.

Unlike the world of the Gracelings, the Dells are marked by the vibrantly colored “monsters” that roam the land–beautiful animals with exotic, multi-colored pelts and the ability to telepathically connect with their prey. The beauty of the monsters is their weapon; their allure too powerful for those who are weak-minded and easily drawn. Fire is a monster, the only one of her kind left in the Dells; her beauty a source of reverence and scorn for those who meet and fear her.

Growing up in the company of Lord Brocker and his son Archer, Fire learned to respect the will of others and to fear her power. Strong and willful, she learned to hunt and hide her presence from the monsters that would have her blood, but had little to do with society. Her father was the one exception. Cansrel, beautiful and monstrous companion of the then King Nax, instructed his daughter in the nuances of cruelty, inadvertently instilling in Fire an awareness of the ethical implications of her unique ability.

When the young Dellian king, Nash, faces the threat of civil war, Fire is brought before him, her ability to sway the will of others making her a prime choice for the position of royal interrogator. When Fire travels to King’s City and reluctantly agrees to take on the job, she does not realize how much her life is about to change.

I enjoyed Graceling, but I loved Fire. Fire stands out as a female character who is incredibly aware of her self, her flaws, strengths, and her
potential to be cruel and kind at the same time. In Fire, Cashore takes those elements that made Katsa’s story so wonderful in its portrayal of female heroism and takes it up a notch. I would definitely call Fire a feminist heroine (she-ro) the likes of which I am always searching for in fantasy. Many of the themes explored in the novel–female sexuality, birth control, pregnancy, the decision to have or refrain from having children–also stand out as themes that are not widely discussed in fantasy literature (especially YA fantasy), but which are definitely important to a feminist understanding of the female as hero. While reading the novel, I found myself drawing comparisons between Fire and Tamora Pierce’s Alanna; they are not the same, but their characters are equally self-aware and independent.

This is one of the best YA fantasies I have read in a while.

(s)heroes

I’ve received some great recommendations and discovered some wonderful reads as part of my search for fantasy featuring strong female protagonists—the kind who are willing to take up a sword and fight as well as any of the male heroes that abound in fantasy fiction. It’s difficult finding these characters; though there are a lot of great fantasy novels, the genre really is dominated by male writers and male characters. That’s another of my requirements on this literary quest: I want my strong female characters to be written by strong female writers. I think Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown has become my touchstone when looking for books featuring (s)heroes. Aerin is such a strong character; she’s unconventional and knows what she wants, and that’s an important element, some of the best female heroines are those who know what they want and do their damnedest to get it. That said, the women in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters trilogy and Katsa in Kristin Cashore’s Graceling most assuredly meet the mark.

Daughter of the Forest – Sorcha

daughter

Through a retelling of the story of “The Six Swans,” Juliet Marillier crafts a tale worthy of Irish folklore . Sorcha, the seventh child of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters, becomes entangled in a prophecy with the power to alter the fate of Erin. Encountering the fabled Lady of the Forest, Sorcha is warned to stay true to her path despite the challenges that she will undoubtedly face. Blissful in her forest home and safe in the company of her six older brothers, Sorcha is unprepared for the danger that arises when her father is swayed by the powerful sorceress, Lady Oognah. Bearing the brunt of Lady Oognah’s malice, Lord Colum’s sons are transformed into six wild swans and Sorcha is charged with silence and the duty to craft six shirts from starwort, a vicious plant that poisons and pains, her success the only means of restoring her brothers to their human form. Difficulties abound as Sorcha struggles to complete her task, but her endurance belies her gentle nature and makes her the heroine of this tale.

Son of the Shadows – Liadan

son

Son of the Shadows continues the story of the people of Sevenwaters and the prophecy that marks their lives. Liadan, the youngest daughter of Sorcha, finds that she is not tied to the path that marks the lives of the other members of Sevenwaters. The fair folk cannot make sense of Liadan’s place in the prophecy, her birth was not foretold, nor is her path clear, but one thing is certain–Liadan makes her own destiny.

Graceling – Katsa

gracelingThe Graces are marked by special talents… and the unusual color of their eyes. Katsa, orphaned niece of the wicked King Randa, comes into her Grace in the most violent of ways–she unwittingly kills her cousin when she resists his touch. For Randa, Katsa’s power is an opportunity, a perfect weapon. Marginalized because of her Grace and her unnerving eyes, Katsa has few friends and little reason to value her invincibility. But everything changes when she meets Po, Lienid Prince and fellow Graceling. Seeming the perfect fighter, Po is the only one able to reach out to Katsa, challenging her physically and emotionally. Setting out on a quest, Katsa finds that the real challenge is learning to accept herself and understanding the truth of her Grace.

I just started reading Child of the Prophecy, the third Sevenwaters book, so I will be reviewing that one soon. I thoroughly enjoyed Daughter of the Forest and Son of the Shadows, and was pleased to find that the sequel was just as enjoyable as the first book. While Daughter of the Forest builds on the six swans tale, Son of the Shadows creates a legend all its own. In some ways, Liadan develops as a stronger character, but both she and Sorcha are powerful figures.

Graceling opens with an action-packed scene, but the pace quickly falls into a lull. I was tempted to put it down after a few chapters, but the novel seemed like a quick read and I was interested in learning how things would develop between Katsa and Po. I’m glad I kept reading, the story takes a turn after Po and Katsa become friends, and the plot comes together when Katsa starts to reflect on her Grace and the power it bestows. I prefer more plot development (at times it seemed that Katsa spent way too much time hunting and not enough doing… well… anything else), but the second half of the book made it worthwhile.

the duchess and the tower

On a quest for strong female characters in fantasy fiction – Part Deux

college of magicsI love a good bildungsroman and if it  breaks the mold of male coming-of-age stories, even better. Caroline Stevermer’s A College of Magics is most assuredly not your typical coming-of-age novel.

Set in an alternate Belle-Époque Europe  where elemental magic can be harnessed by a select few, the novel follows the adventures of Faris Nallaneen, Duchess of Galazon as she  learns the meaning of duty, responsibility, and love.

Shipped off to Greenlaw College until she reaches her majority, Faris is certain that her Uncle Brinker, steward of Galazon, is intent on keeping her out of the way so he can perform his own devious end. A college for the magical education of young women, Greenlaw is protected by powerful wardens that deny the practice of magic on school grounds. In Faris’s opinion, the place is just another finishing school.

Desperate for Galazon, Faris finds an affinity with the prim and anything-but-proper Jane Brailsford, whose friendship keeps Faris from becoming too homesick and forces her to view her duty to Galazon and the magic of Greenlaw in a new light. But there is more to Galazon than skipping class for a pot of tea and three-volume novels in Jane’s study, as Faris soon learns. Making an enemy of Menary Paganell, Faris begins to see that some magic is deadly and there are those who would use it for their advantage.

A dangerous trip across Europe, a magical quest, mysterious characters, and political plots make Faris’s coming-of-age quite an adventure.

death by chocolate

n6955While on my quest for that elusive element in fantasy fiction–the strong female protagonist (or girls who do things)–I was introduced to Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery & Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot a magical romance set in Regency era England. Caught up in the magical machinations of their country neighbor, Sir Hilary,  and his sometime co-conspirator, the power-hungry Miranda, cousins Kate and Cecilia find that their entry into society is about to become a lot more interesting.

Forced to stay home in Rushton Manor while Kate has her first Season in London, Cecilia begins a correspondence, keeping Kate abreast of all the happenings in Essex–like the arrival of Miss Dorothea and the appearance of the rude Mr. Tarleton. Meanwhile, Kate finds that there is more to London than balls and dancing when she runs into the vengeful Miranda, who mistakes her for someone named Thomas, and her enchanted chocolate pot. Finding themselves in the middle of an intrigue, Kate and Cecilia learn that sometimes the rules of decorum must be broken… especially if one does not wish to be turned into a tree.

As someone who loves Regency, I found Sorcery & Cecilia to be a delightful read, it’s fun and quirky and makes the idea of sorcery seem entirely plausible. The epistolary form allows for two very distinct voices to come through as Kate and Cecilia recount their adventures (Wrede and Stevermer wrote the novel as a Letter Game that turned into something more), making the novel seem like a  real glimpse of the past.

The novel is followed by two sequels, The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician, also co-authored by Wrede and Stevermer.