On reading the Caster Chronicles

*Warning, this is a reaction to the series as a whole, so there may be SPOILERS*

I decided to read Beautiful Creatures after reading an author interview featuring Kami Garcia and being intrigued by the idea of the book being written as a way to engage students who wanted to read something different from what was being published. I really enjoyed that first novel in the series. I found the writing evocative and lyrical, and was drawn to the characters–especially some of the side characters. Family is a huge part of the Caster Chronicles, as is the idea of the South, and these are two elements that I loved and enjoyed reading throughout the series. Macon and Amma may very well be two of my favorite parental figures in young adult literature. That said, I found myself losing interest in the actual plot after Beautiful Darkness. Beautiful Chaos and Beautiful Redemption kept me reading because I wanted to know how it would come together in the end, but the action felt lacking to me and Abraham and Sarafine were more like caricatures than well-rounded, motivated villains. Just when it seemed like there was more to Sarafine that just being a big baddie, her redemption became lost in a whirl of “I’m going to get you my pretty”. Sarafine’s history, like Genevieve’s, was a deciding factor in many of the events that occur in Lena’s life, but those glimpses of the girl who was rejected by her family were overshadowed by her irrational desire to kill kill kill. The idea that Dark Casters are bad just because they’re Dark Casters didn’t work for me, in the same way that the reason behind Ethan’s decision didn’t work for me. His journey through death and his experience of the afterlife were interesting and had a mythic quality, but the part about Angelus’s involvement in Ethan’s sacrifice lessened it for me. Angelus just didn’t read like a villain to me. Don’t get me wrong, he was evil and full of hate, but it was stark evil without reason. Kind of a let down.

Beautiful Redemption ended well, but I found myself reading just to get to the end. The first part seemed to drag aimlessly until Lena’s book, but the last few chapters reached a satisfying conclusion.

And those are my 2 cents.

creatures of myth and wonder

Prophecy of the Most Beautiful by Diantha Jones

YA Fantasy novels are often inspired by myth and folklore, but it’s not often that one takes on a modern characterization of the Greek gods and their cohorts. Diantha Jones’s Prophecy (part of the new Oracle of Delphi series) does just that, with a side of adventure for good measure. 

Top student Chloe Clever used to be on the right path to graduation, until she started experiencing visions and violent episodes. Already labeled a screw up by her classmates and school administrators, Chloe just wants to get through school without another incident, but the fates just won’t allow it. Beating the vice principal’s son to a pulp Chloe is ready to say goodbye to her final chance and hello to a psych ward, when she finds herself under attack. Facing down a foe straight from one of her nightmarish visions, Chloe’s life suddenly becomes a lot more complicated… just the way the gods like it.

Not only are Chloe’s visions real, she’s the new Oracle of Delphi! Discovering her new role, Chloe teams up with a band of demigods that have vowed to protect her, including the impossible sexy Strafford Law, disgraced Sun Prince. Not only must Chloe learn to use her new-found knowledge of myth, she must decipher the Prophecy of the Most Beautiful she gets herself and her new friends killed. Deadly encounters, vengeful gods, and hot immortals abound.

I found the novel was a bit slow to start, but when Chloe’s power become evident, the action really picked up. Overall, I enjoyed the novel. The action sequences were well-written and fast-paced, and Chloe’s journey into the Billows (a sort of stairway to heaven that takes you wherever it wills) was one of my favorite parts. The Olympians were also well-portrayed in a way that drew on their mythical traits while setting them up as modern rock stars, megalomaniacs, and club owners. Other than a few typos (insignificant enough that they can be overlooked unless you’re a grammar geek), my issues with the narrative are really just pet peeves. For one, I don’t care for descriptions of fashion that are too label-oriented and time-specific. I find that it dates a novel in the long-run. Also, there were several instances when interactions between male characters were described as “queer,” or the males were labeled as “pansies”. Not something I cared for, but might go unnoticed by other readers.

It’s a fun, original YA read that can appeal to fans of urban fantasy similar to Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series or readers who just love mythology. With myth, romance, action, and fashion, there’s a lot for YA readers to love.

You can learn more about the series on Diantha Jones’s homepage: http://www.diantha-jones.com/p/oracle-of-delphi-series.html

Disclaimer: I received my e-copy from Diantha Jones. No payment was received or requested for this review.

Summer of YA – Part 3

The list goes on… a couple of quick reactions before I fly off for the weekend.

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

Tallulah is off to live a life of art! Performance art, that is. On the wild and windy moors, she and her friends get up to all manner of antics and boy-watching. It’s a fabulous summer, in spite of Tallulah’s knees.
There isn’t much to say about Withering Heights. It’s a fun read, not as funny as the Georgia Nicolson series, but no one could top Georgia and her disco dancing viking mates. This was a spot of sunshine between two dark books.

Hush by Donna Jo Napoli

Just when I thought I had finished one book about an abused princess, I dive into another book about an abused princess. Hush plays on a scene in an Icelandic tale, the Saga of the People of Laxardal, creating a back story for the slave Melkorka, an Irish princess who is taken captive, along with her young sister, by a band of marauders and sold into slavery. The novel reads like a fragment in a larger story, but provides just enough depth and character development to intrigue readers. When Mel and her sister are taken hostage, Mel finds a bit salvation when the master of the slave ship discovers three stork feathers and a gold teething ring in a pouch she carried. The items serve as an amulet against much of the brutality that she would otherwise face. Believing Mel is an “aist”–a stork that shapeshifts into the form of a woman–the slaver comes to regard her with fear and awe. When Mel takes on the “hush,” keeping her silence to maintain her otherworldly appearance and try to save her sister and herself, she finds herself becoming Aist. However, the hush cannot protect her from those who would abuse her, and it is a cruel world that she finds herself in. The brutal realities of being a slave, especially a female slave, are presented in a way that maintains the essence of a slave’s dangerous life, while keeping the details light enough for younger readers.

Silver Phoenix

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

I so wanted to like this book. When I first read about it (during the great cover controversy), I was taking a class on multicultural books for children and teens and I thought it sounded perfect for the unit on literature on Asian culture, but I wasn’t able to get a hold of one of the three copies in my local library system until two weeks ago.

The premise (highly reduced to the basic plot): Asian fantasy with a female hero.

Ancient Chinese fantasy world? Definitely something I can enjoy. Female hero? Have you read this blog before? I crave books with sheroes.

The execution, however, was another matter. The writing is flowy and lyrical, just what you would want in a story that almost reads like a myth, but I just couldn’t get into it. It took me a week to get halfway through the novel, which felt terribly long considering this is a genre I usually gobble-up in a day. I asked myself if I really cared if I never learned what happened to Ai Ling at the end and realized that I didn’t and could just let it go.

I wish I could have enjoyed this, but something about the pacing and writing style just didn’t work for me. It sounds like a very interesting book and I’m sure other readers will really enjoy it, but it was starting to feel like I was reading it just to prove some point that I didn’t need to prove.

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 🙂 )

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.