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Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett – Shadow Magic

When I read Havemercy last year, I was pleasantly surprised. The cover and blurb were highly misleading but the type of book I ended up getting was just up my alley, the characters so interesting that I knew I wanted to discover more of that world of iron dragons and magicians. Shadow Magic is similar in tone and focus, but it takes place in the Ke-Han empire, a place somewhat based on feudal Japan/China.

shadow magicSHADOW MAGIC
by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett

Published by: Spectra, 2009
ebook: 464 pages
Series: Metal Dragons #2
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: On the seventh and final day of mourning for the loss of the war, my brother Iseul came to my chambers to tell me that our father was dead.

Led to victory by its magic-fueled Dragon Corps, Volstov has sent a delegation to its conquered neighbors to work out the long-awaited terms of peace. Among those in the party are the decorated war hero General Alcibiades and the formerly exiled magician Caius Greylace. But even this mismatched pair can’t help but notice that their defeated enemies aren’t being very cooperative. The hidden truth is that the new emperor is harboring a treacherous secret—and once it is revealed, Alcibiades and Caius may be powerless to stop it.

With their only ally an exiled prince now fleeing his brother’s assassins, the countryside rife with terror, and Alcibiades and Caius all but prisoners, it will take the most powerful kind of magic to heal the rift between two strife-worn lands and unite two peoples against a common enemy: shadow magic.

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Shadow Magic continues where Havemercy left off, although with a different set of characters. The war is won and the Esar sends a delegation of wizards and diplomats to the Ke-Han court in order to work out the details of the peace treaty. Quiet and grumpy Alcibiades is not happy to be paired up with the flamboyant young Caius Greylace who seems to stick his nose into anything, whether it’s his business or not. But Caius is what he gets and, after many fights about appropriate clothing and Ke-Han food, a sort of friendship develops between the two unlikely companions.

The two remaining protagonists are the younger prince, Mamoru, and his loyal servant Kouje. Once the new emperor Iseul declares Mamoru a traitor, Kouje takes matters into his own hands and gets the prince out of the palace. They spend most of the novel as fugitives. Hunting rabbits in the forest and sleeping on the naked ground are not the worst things prince and servant have to deal with, however. For Kouje, trained from childhood to serve his master, it is almost worse that he suddenly has to treat Mamoru like an equal. Or – on some occasions – as beneath him in status. The Ke-Han take their duty and honor very seriously and I think the authors did a fantastic job in conveying just how deep these beliefs are ingrained in their culture. Mamoru himself is a lovable young man who has to deal not only with the death of his father and the loss of the war, but also the betrayal of his own brother.

shadowmagic

My favorite part, though, was the dynamic between Alcibiades and Caius. The constant bickering, the annoyance on Alcibiades’ part and the Caius’ “oh, my dear”s made for great humor in an otherwise serious book. When two characters seem so unfit for each other’s friendship, ever little gesture doubles in meaning. Alcibiades, for example, refuses to politely wear blue – the traditional Ke-Han colour – and continues to appear to formal dinners in Volstovic red. So Caius, in an attempt at friendship, has robes made in red for himself to show loyalty, or affection, or… who knows what really toward Alcibiades. Theirs is an interesting relationship because I never knew quite where I stood with Caius. His flamboyant openness was infectious and made me just as eager to get to know Ke-Han culture as he was himself.

I loved discovering art and food and theater with Caius and the Ke-Han warlord Temur. The fact that the diplomats react differently to, say, Ke-Han cuisine, was realistic and, at times, amusing. While Caius is eager to learn new things and try what Ke-Han has to offer, Alcibiades would much rather have some traditional Volstov food and people whose faces show emotions.

Shadow Magic may contain some magic at the end, but it is first and foremost a fantasy of manners that examines cultural differences and the things that unite us, no matter how we grew up. It was a lovely experience both for the amazing characters and the world-building. Mamoru and Kouje travel the countryside, showing the readers a world beyond the splendor of the palace and that even within one’s own culture, there are vast differenences between social stations. At the palace, the Volstovic diplomats mostly illustrated what divides Ke-Han culture from Vostolv culture and so the authors draw a beautiful picture of both empires.

Although it is a quiet book whose focus is character development, there are scenes that could be considered action-packed. Alcibiades training sword-fighting with a Ke-Han warlord almost took my breath away. The ending itself is full of action and magic – and maybe because of that, it felt a little rushed. Everything else took such careful planning, such slow developing, that the resolution came almost too quickly. But I’m not complaining, I enjoyed the hell out of this book. Towards the end, a character from Havemercy has a cameo and I’m told the next book brings back two of my favorite protagonists from that novel as well.

Either way, I am nowhere near done exploring this world. Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett have created a beautiful setting (still with very few women, although we do get Josette who even has some lines) and characters that stick with you. Whether their relationship is romantic in nature or merely platonic, I loved getting to know them and seeing them grow (both personally and on each other). Let’s see what the authors have in store for me with their next book.

RATING: 7,5/10  – very good, leaning towards an 8

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The Metal Dragons/Havemercy Series:

  1. Havemercy
  2. Shadow Magic
  3. Dragon Soul
  4. Steel Hands
5

Terry Pratchett – Mort

Mort was the first Discworld novel I ever read. I still have my old German paperback hidden away in the second row of a shelf somewhere. I was 16 when I first read it and, to say the least, the sparks didn’t really fly. Since then, I have rediscovered the amazingness that is the Discworld, so I thought it was time for a reread (or re-listen, in this case). What I have learned from the experience is that I do not envy the translator/s of these books – transporting Terry Pratchett’s wit into another language must be causing migraines all over the world…

mort1MORT
by Terry Pratchett

Published by: Corgi, 1987
Ebook: 316 pages
Audiobook: 7h 38m
Series: Discworld #4, Death #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: This is the bright candlelit room where the lifetimers are stored – shelf upon shelf of them, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past.


It is known as the Discworld. It is a flat planet, supported on the backs of four elephants, who in turn stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin as it swims majestically through space. And it is quite possibly the funniest place in all of creation…
Death comes to us all. When he came to Mort, he offered him a job.
After being assured that being dead was not compulsory, Mort accepted. However, he soon found that romantic longings did not mix easily with the responsibilities of being Death’s apprentice

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Mort is a young man who doesn’t quite fit in. When he decides to become an apprentice and learn a trade, people find the most exciting pretexts for not taking him on. So he waits until the fair is over. Until midnight, to be precise. Standing there, when most people have left, still un-apprenticed, Mort’s hope begins to fade. Until a big white horse with a suspiciously skinny rider appears and Mort gets the job as Death’s apprentice.

Many people recommend Mort as a Discworld starter novel and I see why (although I disagree). It is the fourth Discworld novel and the first one to introduce Death as a protagonist. However, and many Pratchett fans will tell you this, the earlier novels aren’t nearly as great as the later ones. I fell in love with the YA novels (The Amazing Maurice and Tiffany Aching) long after I tried the starter novels. Both Mort and Guards! Guards! were fun but, to me, they come from a time when Discworld was still growing and each sub-series was still finding its own voice. And you can read them without any plan or order whatsoever and still get all the fun. To me, reading the witches books after meeting Granny and Nanny in the Tiffany Aching novels, was still brilliant. I didn’t stick with them after reading Equal Rites, the first witches novel, which goes to show that starting at the beginning is not always the best idea.

That said, I adore Death as a character. His deep, booming voice appears right in the heads of people rather than being spoken out loud. It is written in CAPITAL LETTERS, which seems like such a simple trick to convey tone and strength in writing, but it actually works pretty well. Nigel Planer, the narrator of the audiobook, adds a little something extra through his reading of Death. His deep voice delivers Death’s speech as monotone, seemingly without emotions, which makes for hilarious moments, for example when Death COULD MURDER A CURRY.

I enjoyed Mort much more the second time I read it. The audiobook narration is probably as much responsible as my general love for the Discworld, and if you know me, you’ll guess that it’s really the characters that make this book so good. Death personified could have been many things, but Terry Pratchett decided to make the Grim Reaper not all that grim, rather a very strange, ancient being who is trying to learn more about humans. Watching Death learn how to have fun and watching Mort grow more and more into his master was just fascinating.

The story kicks off when Death sends Mort on his first night out alone. Mort knows how to collect souls by now, he can use the scythe, he does the first two jobs really well. For those who have read The Long Earth, there is a bonus appearance of Lobsang which is worth a giggle or two. But when it comes to collecting the soul of princess Keli, Mort’s feelings get in the way. His crush on the pretty girl make him change destiny, despite Death’s warnings that even the smallest change can destroy the entire world. I quite liked the theme of the plot. It puts human emotions, love and empathy, up against the smooth course of the world. If these two collide, whatever happens can’t be good. But how can you go against your own nature? Taking the souls of an old witch and a priest who seems to be re-born over and over again anyway doesn’t seem so bad. But a young girl with most of her life still ahead of her? I believe, even without Mort’s crush, most of us would have qualms doing that particular job.

My favorite Discworld characters will always be the Lancre Witches, but there is a lot to be said for Death as well. Death, Mort, Ysabel, and Albert are subtler personalities than, say, the wizards. You can’t quite put your finger on what Death is thinking any given moment. Mort’s story is a coming-of-age tale, but a very different one from most boys. And Ysabel… well, Ysabel. I vaguely remember disliking her a lot when I first read the book as a teenager. This time, she grew on me so much that I was sad to find out she probably won’t show up as much in the next Death novel. She had great insight into Death’s personality, having lived with him for such a long time and without her, Mort would have been lost on more than one occasion.

The ending was a tad disappointing, in that it went so smoothly. Or maybe that’s just me making excuses. I really grew fond of Mort and Susan and am sad to say goodbye so soon. But, knowing Sir Terry, maybe there will be a cameo or two in one of the other Death novels. I’m about to find out, as I’m already halfway through Reaper Man.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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The Death Series (Discworld):

  1. death discworldMort
  2. Reaper Man
  3. Soul Music
  4. Hogfather
  5. Thief of Time
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Fairy Tale Retelling: Marissa Meyer – Scarlet

It’s been a few years since I read Cinder – the fact that I’ve waited so long to continue the series speaks volumes. While Meyer’s Cinderella retelling was fun and added an interesting twist (Cyborg Cinderella!), the writing was lacking on many levels. But I hate having unread series lying around and I knew this would be a quick read. Scarlet was pretty much exactly what I expected. Not great, not terrible. A kind of guilty pleasure.

scarletSCARLET
by Marissa Meyer

Published by: Feiwel and Friends, 2013
Ebook: 452 pages
Series: The Lunar Chronicles #2
My rating: 5,5/10

First sentence: Scarlet was descending toward the alley behind the Rieux Tavern when her portscreen chimed from the passenger seat, followed by an automated voice: “Comm received for Mademoiselle Benoit from the Toulouse Law Enforcement Department of Missing Persons.”

Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison–even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive. Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

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Scarlet lives on a small farm in the French village of Rieux. When her grandmother disappears and the police do nothing, Scarlet wants to take matters into her own hands. How lucky that the dark and mysterious stranger who just stumbled into town is connected to grand-mère’s dissapearance… Meanwhile, Cinder escapes from prison, dragging along the flamboyant Captain Thorne, on her way to find out more about herself and her past.

The plot in the second Lunar Chronicle book is thin, to say the least, but it does offer a few scenes that make it a worthwhile read. Cinder’s escape from prison and the introduction of Captain Thorne were among my favorite parts of the book. Their bantering and bickering even made me giggle a few times. Scarlet’s plotline, on the other hand, takes ages to get going and ends up as predictable as the big twist in the first book. Of course, a Red Riding Hood retelling has to have the girl fall in love with the wolf. No surprise there. And, if I’m completely honest, the romantic scenes were among the better ones of the entire book. Marissa Meyer managed to create moments of tension while completely adhering to the strange rule of YA romance that people who have known each other for less than a day are already utterly in love. To the point where they’d give up their life for the other person… [insert gigantic eye roll here]

Once the story did kick off though, there were other mysteries to be explored. If you have a character called Wolf who is prone to violence, it’s not very hard to guess what exactly he might be. This is where things are changed up a bit, making for a more interesting story than, say, regular werewolves. A bit more interesting, not anything mind-blowing. Alternating between Cinder, Scarlet, Emperor Kai, and – just once – Queen Levana, it’s easy to keep reading despite the many problems the novel has. It may be very readable, but it is also clearly just a prelude for bigger things to come. Very little of consequence happens during the course of this story, but it does set things up neatly for the next book. Characters are put into positions and put together with other characters in order to make for a (hopefully) better story in book three.

The novel’s biggest flaw is still the writing. Yes, it’s quick and simple and has nice (though unoriginal) dialogue. But hardly anything is learned or discovered without massive amounts of exposition and characters explaining everything to the protagonists. The characters’ actions don’t always make sense, but hey, if you can fall in eternal love with a person after only a day, I’m already questioning your judgement. So their overreactions and strange behavior make sense, I suppose, within the context of the story. Add to that the lack of depth in any and all of the characters and you’ve got a perfect example for a popcorn novel.

After ranting and giving you the reasons why this isn’t a very good book, why did I rate it as “okay”? Shouldn’t it get a “bad” rating? Well, because it is also a lot of fun. It’s fluffy and simple and doesn’t require a lot of thought on the reader’s part. It’s like a Hollywood action movie where you know from the start that the protagonists end up kissing, and of course some form of evil is defeated, leaving the big enemy alive for the sequel. I don’t have a lot to say about Scarlet because there is just so little substance to it, but I can say that if you’re home with the flu and your head is having a hard time concentrating, this might just be the right series for you. Switch off the brain, switch on the movie screen inside your head, and off you go into a world of cyborgs and girls with red hoodies and brooding dark men with hearts of gold.

So did I like it? Yeah, knowing I really shouldn’t, I kind of did. Not enough to read the next book immediately, not even enough to read it this year. But I’m sure the days will come again when I just don’t want to concentrate too hard or think very much for fear of missing a plot point, when a silly, fluffy romance on a spaceship is all I want. And then I’ll be ready with a copy of Cress.

RATING: 5,5/10  –  Okay

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The Lunar Chronicles:

  1. Cinder
  2. Scarlet
  3. Cress
  4. Winterlunar chronicles
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#Diversiverse Review: Karen Lord – The Best of All Possible Worlds

diversiverse3I’m a little ashamed to admit how long this book has been sitting on my TBR pile. I got a review copy right before it first came out and have only managed to finish it now. But being unread for a while is no judgement on the book’s quality and I am so glad I read this for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. I liked this much more than Redemption in Indigo despite some minor qualms.

untitledTHE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS
by Karen Lord

Published by: Del Rey, 2013
Ebook: 325 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: He always set aside twelve days of his annual retreat to finish reports and studies, and that left twelve more for everything else.

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all.

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I know Karen Lord as a playful, witty writer who retold a Senegalese folktale in Redemption in Indigo. As she ventures into science fiction, she shows that there is much more to her than that.

As the Sadiri’s home planet is destroyed and they lose the majority of their population in one blow, extinction seems inevitable. A small group of Sadiri come to the planet Cygnus Beta to scout for appropriate wives for the largely male survivors of the disaster. With a deep desire to keep their culture and genetic lines alive, finding fitting wives is not an easy task.
Grace Delarua, the narrator of this story, joins the Sadiri on their mission and travels across the planet for likely candidates to help the Sadiri race survive.

Delarua’s narration is fresh and charming, full of humor and passion, and so creates the perfect balance between her personality and that of the Sadiri, above them all Dllenahkh, seemingly cold and reserved. The Sadiri, renowned telepaths, keep their emotions to themselves, if indeed they have any. Their thoughts are impossible to read on their faces, their body language gives away nothing. To juxtapose such people with open and outspoken Delarua just made their differences more visible and the entire book more interesting. Discovering more about Sadiri culture, about their customs and their use of telepathy, is what kept me reading wide-eyed and curiously.

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Once the group of scientists set off on their journey, among them gender-neutral Lian, the Sadiri Dllenahkh, Nasiha, and Tarik, as well as Cygnian doctor Queturah, the story becomes somewhat episodic. Every chapter narrates their discoveries in a different settlement which, most of the time, has little to do with whatever they learned in the last one. At this point, the novel felt a little stitched together like a quilt of smaller stories, none of them boring, but none of them properly glued together either. Some of these earlier chapters have no consequence on the larger plot whatsoever, others are an opportunity to give the characters depth and show the readers more about them. The visit to Delarua’s family, for example, opened a world of questions, only some of which are answered. It was a great exercise in world-building without bogging down the narration, of character growth and development on several levels, and it was the point – for me – where the story really kicked off.

After that, Karen Lord put more focus on her characters and their reaction to whatever settlement they visit at the time. What fascinated me most, apart from Sadiri culture in general, was the sense of doom hanging over Dllenahkh at all times. By losing their home planet, most Sadiri have lost people close to them. Partners, children, parents, and grandparents, and that tragedy is felt in almost every chapter. To make things worse, they are facing extinction if they don’t find suitable wives for their single (or newly-single) men to keep the race going. They are a proud people and want to keep their culture alive as well as their genetics. It’s not just about finding a wife they like but it’s about genetic and cultural compatibility. As they pass settlement after settlement without much success, their desperation becomes more and more clear. Karen Lord does a phenomenal job of conveying that dread and fear without ever actually saying it. No exposition is needed as it becomes clear through the characters’ actions and emotions. And, yes, after a while, the readers learn to interpret Sadiri emotions, just as Delarua does.

best of all possible worlds alt coverThe closer to the end you get, the clearer it becomes that The Best of All Possible Worlds is also a love story. Furtive glances, accidental touches, and all the other little things that people do to get closer to each other, are difficult enough within one’s own culture. Try the same thing across two cultures that are so vastly different and you’ve got a really thrilling tale of romance. For the romance-deniers among you, don’t worry. There is nothing cheesy or cliché about this story. Even the end, which felt a little too perfect at first glance, struck me as utterly real and honest after a little while.

I had started reading this book around its publication and then stopped reading because its episodic nature made it easy to put down after a chapter. This time, I pushed through the beginning up to the moment I got hooked. And then there was no stopping me. I enjoyed this far more than the author’s debut, Redemption in Indigo, simply because it focused more on characters and matters that offer food for thought. Culture, race, gender, relationships, they all find a place in The Best of All Possible Worlds, and they do so effortlessly. Nothing feels forced, nothing feels fake. Sure, the narration could have used some tightening, some red thread to follow, especially in the early chapters, but even those weren’t ever boring.

I think Karen Lord is finding her voice (in a delightful way, might I add) and I believe she will only get better and better. I am now really curious about the quasi-sequel, The Galaxy Game, which will follow Delarua’s nephew Rafi. The author has created a fantastic world, one that I’m not done exploring.

RATING: 8/10  –  Excellent

EDIT: Squee! I got an e-ARC of The Galaxy Game via NetGalley. Thank you, my day is made. Now I only need to restrain myself until January (or its vicinity) before reading and posting a review.

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Maggie Stiefvater – The Raven Boys

The internet has been buzzing about Maggie Stiefvater ever since her Shiver Trilogy. As far as I know, it is settled somewhere in the vicinity of werewolf romance novels, which is why I haven’t felt the need to pick them up. Then came the universally praised Scorpio Races and I gave myself a nudge and bought it. However, when both Renay and Justin Landon raved about The Raven Boys, I knew there must be more to this book than just a squeeworthy teen romance. And there must be far more to Maggie Stiefvater as a writer. Spoiler: they were right.

raven boysTHE RAVEN BOYS
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic, 2012
Ebook: 468 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #1
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told that she would kill her true love.

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“There are only two reasons a non-seer would see a spirit on St. Mark’s Eve,” Neeve said. “Either you’re his true love . . . or you killed him.”

It is freezing in the churchyard, even before the dead arrive.
Every year, Blue Sargent stands next to her clairvoyant mother as the soon-to-be dead walk past. Blue herself never sees them—not until this year, when a boy emerges from the dark and speaks directly to her.
His name is Gansey, and Blue soon discovers that he is a rich student at Aglionby, the local private school. Blue has a policy of staying away from Aglionby boys. Known as Raven Boys, they can only mean trouble.
But Blue is drawn to Gansey, in a way she can’t entirely explain. He has it all—family money, good looks, devoted friends—but he’s looking for much more than that. He is on a quest that has encompassed three other Raven Boys: Adam, the scholarship student who resents all the privilege around him; Ronan, the fierce soul who ranges from anger to despair; and Noah, the taciturn watcher of the four, who notices many things but says very little.
For as long as she can remember, Blue has been warned that she will cause her true love to die. She never thought this would be a problem. But now, as her life becomes caught up in the strange and sinister world of the Raven Boys, she’s not so sure anymore.

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This book presents real difficulties when it comes to reviewing, mainly because of its meandering plot lines. How can one sum up such a novel? Short answer: you can’t. So let me preface this rambling review-ish thing by telling you that I loved it. It was such a pleasure to find a gem like this in between the copies of whatever is currently successful (looking at you, Hunger Games and Twilight knock-offs).

The Raven Boys is about a group of eponymous boys and a girl named Blue Sargent who has grown up in a family of psychics without having the ability to see the future herself. Blue’s talent is making the occult forces “louder” or more clear for her gifted family. Except for that one St. Mark’s Eve when she doesn’t just help her aunt see the future dead but instead sees one herself. Gansey is clearly a Raven Boy – the school crest on his expensive sweater is a dead givaway. And Blue can see him because she will be the instrument of his death, one way or another.

The story is heavily loaded with magical portents and prophecy but other than so many fantasy prophecies – one unlikely hero to save the world from evil forces and all that – Blue doesn’t react all too strongly to what has been foretold. One day, she will kill her true love. And, so it seems, she will kill Gansey. The first part she has known all her life, the second comes as a bit of a shock but, hey, what’s she going to do? Try and prevent his death, of course. But knowing how prophecies work, she’s more interested in solving the mystery and less sure that she’ll be able to change the future.

raven boys detail

What drew me in at first was this prohpecy, because I just like that kind of thing. I have a very soft spot for them, especially self-fulfilling prophecies (Macbeth *sigh*). But what made me stay (and immediately buy the second book) were the Raven Boys themselves. Their relationships are complex and intricate and not easily summed up in a sentence or two. What Maggie Stiefvater does in this book is draw vivid paintings of a group of young men who care deeply for each other but are, to some degree, equally codependent. You’d think the rich kids who go to a preppy private school like Aglionby wouldn’t have many problems of their own and if they did they would be petty problems. Not so the Raven Boys. Sure, they may be rich and lead an easier life than someone who has to struggle for every penny, but they are each looking for something more from life, first and foremost true bonds with other people.

Gansey had once told Adam that he was afraid most people didn’t know how to handle Ronan. What he meant by this was that he was worried that one day someone would fall on Ronan and cut themselves.

This is not at all, as some reviewers have said, a romance novel. Blue and Adam do develop a certain magnetism but this is not what the book is all about. Navigating first love is part of it, certainly, but at the heart of the novel is friendship. I was most intrigued by the question who these people really are. It’s hard to pinpoint, which is what makes each and every one of them so interesting. As a female reader, I somehow cast myself into Blue’s role and debated how I would react in certain situations. Would I run away from anyone I could fall in love with? And so deny myself the joy of true friendship? Would I help the Raven Boys on their quest for finding a mythical king, shrouded in paranormal mystery? I don’t know. What I do know is that I can’t get nearly enough of the Raven Boys and their interactions.

In that moment, Blue was a little in love with all of them.
Their magic. Their quest. Their awfulness and strangeness.
Her Raven Boys.

Another reason this book stands out from that kind of YA – you know, the kind that makes me angry at having spent money on it – is that it’s also not about the plot. What happens is interesting and helps to keep you reading but despite the mystery, and the small part of it that’s resolved in this first instalment of the Raven Cycle, personally I wouldn’t have cared if this had just been 400 pages of Blue, Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah spending time together. Whether they’re hunting for ley lines or having pizza and watching a movie really didn’t make much difference to me. Their personalities are what shines, their relationships are the real mystery. I can’t put my finger on anything with this book and that’s a huge part of its appeal. Ronan’s inexplicable anger at the entire world, Adam’s pride and desperate attempt to hide it, Gansey’s quest for keeping the group together, and Noah’s quiet observations were far more intriguing than finding a Welsh king’s grave could ever be.

The novel’s closing lines open up entire new worlds to be discovered in the sequels, making this a clear prelude to something bigger. But what is normally annoying, especially in longer fantasy series, doesn’t feel like a cop-out at all. This book needs to exist for whatever happens next to have any impact. If the story had started where The Raven Boys ends, I wouldn’t care nearly as much about the characters as I do now. It is an astounding feat by an author I unjustly dismissed so far. Here’s another lesson to all the YA-avoiders (as I still am, in part): The only reason this can be classified as YA in the first place, is that it’s protagonists are teenagers. The writing isn’t more basic than in adult novels, the relationships are just as complicated, the exploration of human emotions just as real.

I’m off to read The Dream Thieves next and whatever new mysteries await me there, I’m all in, as long as the Raven Boys are there with me.

RATING:  8/10 – Excellent

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The Raven Cycle:
raven cycle

  1. The Raven Boys
  2. The Dream Thieves
  3. Blue Lily, Lily Blue
  4. TBA
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Zen Cho – The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this little book but the cover and premise both intrigued diversiverse3me enough to go buy it, no waiting on the wishlist required. And since it’s #Diversiverse time, this was the perfect moment to read the story – also, I’ve never read anything by a Malaysian author before and that needed to be remedied. Zen Cho’s story had some aspects that I loved and others that left me very disappointed.

perilous life of jade yeoTHE PERILOUS LIFE OF JADE YEO
by Zen Cho

Published by: self-published, 2012
Ebook: 81 pages
Standalaone novella
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: I had tea with the intolerable aunt today.

 

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For writer Jade Yeo, the Roaring Twenties are coming in with more of a purr – until she pillories London’s best-known author in a scathing review. Sebastian Hardie is tall, dark and handsome, and more intrigued than annoyed. But if Jade succumbs to temptation, she risks losing her hard-won freedom – and her best chance for love.

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Jade Yeo is a young Chinese woman, making her way in 1920s London by writing for a newspaper. She deals with her insufferable (and very rich) aunt and learns, for the first time, what it is like to fall in love and fall in lust.

Since it’s the first thing mentioned in the synposis, I need to adress the time and setting of this novella. The Roaring Twenties are somewhat of a buzz word that makes me happily buy a book. Except there isn’t really much roaring or twenties in The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Sure, the time period becomes somewhat apparent in how women are viewed by society, how Jade’s insufferable aunt things Jade should behave, what is considered proper and what makes a scandal. But for everything else that’s there, this could as easily have been set in the 1950s.

The story is set in London and as a Chinese woman, Jade has to deal with some degree of cultural misunderstanding and prejudice. I don’t know if it’s because of her practical, witty character that we don’t see much of it or because the author didn’t want to turn this novella into a novel, but I expected Jade’s life to be much, much harder. A young, unmarried woman whose proper name people can’t pronounce, whose family values are completely different from what she sees on an everyday basis… there should have been more problems for Jade than just paying the rent.

Taking into consideration, however, that the novella is written as Jade’s diary, she may just not be telling us everything there is to know. And  I must say that I adored her voice. She is a practical, surprisingly modern woman with a sense of humor and a hunger for life. When famous author Sebastian Hardie makes advances on her, she just goes with it. Because hey, adventure! She knows she isn’t in love but having an affair is just so damn interesting. The problems I had with the time and the setting are probably due to the fact, that Hardie – as well as his wife – are equally practical modern people. The arrangement that married couple has would be frowned upon by a lot of people, even by today’s standards. For clever, adventurous Jade to fall into the hands of such a freedom-loving couple is unlikely and lessens any drama there could have been given other circumstances.

But the writing and characterisation are spot on. Jade has something of a Jane Austen in her, with her clever observations, her quick comebacks, her overall view on humanity. She’s charming and funny and at the same time vulnerable and real. And she has fun with words which makes me love her infintely more.

A nice Indian servant gave me a drink (I wish I could have spoken to him). I skulked in a corner clutching it and trying as hard as I could to look inscrutable and aloof, but feeling scrutable and loof as anything.

This is a novella that basically reads itself. It happily goes along, without much risk for the protagonist or much impact. Jade may think she’s in trouble but that same trouble is resolved within a matter of a few pages. Zen Cho hints at some heavy subjects but because everything turns out well for our heroine, and everything is so easy, they are somewhat lessened. Come to a different country all aloneperilous life of jade yeo, having (and enjoying) sex as an unmarried woman,  and unwanted pregnancy are just a few things that feel like they were drizzled over the story to give it some depth. Except they don’t feel like issues because EVERYTHING FALLS INTO PLACE SO DAMN EASILY. As soon as a problem arises, somebody goes “Oh that? Don’t worry, here’s a neat little solution.”

At the very end, when Jade realises that she has fallen in love (rather predictably, one might add), that’s the only time where cultural differences really present obstacles. Of course Jade is determined to overcome them and make their love work somehow, but at least we get a glimpse of the difficulties they will face on the way to marital bliss. And even that discussion is over within minutes. But at the very least, there isn’t an immediate, pretty solution. They talk about the issues at hand and promise to find a way to make things work. But we, the readers, know it’s not going to be simple and it’s going to alienate people. Traditional, conservative families whose child wants to marry someone from a completely different culture, will be up in arms. They know this, we know this, and there’s no easy way out.

There were so many things I loved about this story, the protagonist’s voice the foremost among them. I can’t really say anything bad about it except that everything was too easy and happened too fast. A novel-length version of this story with some stakes for the characters would be perfect. If the solutions to Jade’s problems weren’t as quick to arrive, for example, that would have already made this more interesting. If her future hangs in the balance for a mere (short) chapter, I won’t get overly excited. If, however, her uncertainty and at some points, her helplessness were to last longer, that would make it memorable. That would make her little troubles real problems. I commend her for wanting to do everything herself and not relying on the help of others but again, help does come and it pretty much gets her out of any situation without much fuss.

This was only a nice and very quick read that keeps your heartrate at a steady level. No sizzling romance, no danger for our heroine, but a lot of interesting people with surprising views on love, sex, and culture. It’s a peasurable read but not one that will stay with me for long, I suspect. Who would have thought I’d ever say it but here it is: I need a little more drama in my fiction. If I don’t feel with the characters I’m not likely to remember their stories for long.

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10

#Diversiverse Review: Intisar Khanani – Thorn

diversiverse3My first read for Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge can be declared a success. I am still very careful with self-published titles but if enough recommendations float my way, I usually give the book in question a try. As far as the usual prejudice against self-published books go, Thorn did really well. Either the author has a knack for spotting her own mistakes or she got herself a copy editor. Either way, well done Intisar!

thornTHORN
by Intisar Khanani

Published by: self-published, 2012
Ebook: 246 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: “Try not to embarrass us”, my brother says. “If you can.”

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  • The Goose Girl

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Synopsis

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.
Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.
But powerful men have powerful enemies—and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometimes the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

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Having just read a retelling of “The Goose Girl”, I knew Intisar Khanani wouldn’t have an easy job with me. After all, even if she told the story beautifully and faithfully, I had just read it and wouldn’t be very surprised with her take on things. Except Khanani didn’t worry about any of that, and while clearly similar to Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, Thorn’s story is entirely her own.

Princess Alyrra lives in the shadows, always hiding from her abusive brother and her heartless mother. She finds more solace with the castle’s servants and with the wind who talks to her sometimes. When a powerful king comes to visit and picks Alyrra for his son’s bride, Alyrra looks at the developments with trepidation and fear. But also with hope. Then, of course, her servant Valka happens and Alyrra’s life is once more turned upside down.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Intisar Khanani’s version of this story was the identity theft commited by Valka. In Hale’s novel, there is mutiny, an uprising that kills all loyal servants and  anyone who could vouch for the real princess’ identity. However, in Thorn, the Menaiyan king had already seen Alyrra with his own eyes, has talked to her. Simply pretending to be her wouldn’t be enough for Valka. That’s where the magic comes in. It’s a bold move but I loved what the author did. Valka and Alyrra change bodies, voices, clothes, even scars. Magic also makes sure Alyrra can’t tell anybody about her curse. If she tries, she may just die. It’s a simple solution to one of the fairy tale’s problems but I loved how well it worked. If you die as soon as you speak about the curse, that is a solid reason for keeping your mouth shut and even trying to keep up illusions.

thorn cover cutout
Naturally, Alyrra has to deal not only with having lost who she is and the power that comes with that position, but also get to grips with living in a new body. If I’m honest, I would probably go mad. Now Valka is described as rather pretty – and a redhead of course, because princesses in novels always have to end up special even if they weren’t in the beginning – but even if I switched bodies with a Victoria’s Secret model I would probably lose my mind. Alyrra is confused at first, finding her way around in this new body. She’s also shocked at how differently people suddenly treat her. Valka was rather famous for being a nagging, selfish, greedy little brat and Alyrra – the total opposite – isn’t used to people reacting to her that way. Once she got over her first shock, Alyrra sees this magic as an opportunity. After all, she never wanted to sit on a throne, she never wanted the responsibility or the courtly talk and intrigue. A simple life among people she cares about sounds pretty damn good, no matter her social status.

She gets a job as the goose girl, makes new friends and discovers that not all is well in the land of Menaiya. Social injustices, some strange things happening around the prince, and of course that magical force responsible for Alyrra and Valka’s body switch is still hanging around somewhere… this is where the plot started getting a little convoluted, as if the author wasn’t sure what to keep in and what to cut. Mid-novel, a band of thieves is introduced to represent “street justice” if you like. A young girl is brutally raped and beaten – for no other discernible reason than to show Alyrra  that the justice system doesn’t work. The girl was barely properly introduced except for a few throwaway lines and I don’t know how to feel about that.

What I did like was how hard it was for Alyrra to pick up the Menaiyan language. She calls herself Lady Thoreena, but ends up being Thorn because the Menaiyans mispronounce her name. Thorn doesn’t spend a week and can hold conversations about politics. She starts out just like anybody, by learning how to say hello, how to count, how to ask for the most basic things. Especially fantasy novels tend to forget that different languages even exist, and when they do, they usually find a convenient reason for our heroine to learn it within hours or days. Thorn has to clumsily make herself understood, using hands and facial expression as much as her limited vocabulary. This makes it not only more realistic but also helps to show the readers how scary Thorn’s new life really is. Magic threats and hiding who you really are is one thing, but learning a new job, a new language, picking up a new culture is something entirely different. Thorn has a lot on her plate and her growth is a pleasure to watch.

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Thorn’s romance with the prince was mostly absent and built on mystery and mistrust rather than conversations and friendship. It wasn’t a tender thing slow to grow but rather one of suspicious glances, careful probing how far each one could go, and small infrequent gestures of kindness. The end felt a little to convenient and predictable to me. I do like that Alyrra had to save Prince Kestrin’s life, but that part came out of practically nowhere and could have used some build-up. Foreshadowing is a wonderful thing, when done right. In Thorn, it wasn’t done at all, it just whacks you over the head with a hammer.

However, despite my misgivings, this was a competent novel, especially since it was self-published. By that I don’t mean that self-published authors are generally bad writers but that it is obvious whether somebody just published their first draft or carefully went over it, got feedback from others, had someone proofread the book, and so on. Intisar Khanani clearly put in the effort to make what she published something she could be proud of. And in my opinion, she really can.

RATING: 6,5/10  –  Good

4

FTF Book Review: Vivian Vande Velde – The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

Yeah yeah, Fairy Tale Frenzy is over but I still owe you a couple of reviews.  This little book of alternate versions of Rumpelstiltskin can be read in one sitting and so was very well suited for my current busy schedule (consisting of work, work, and to even things out, some more work).

rumpelstiltskin problemTHE RUMPELSTILTSKIN PROBLEM
by Vivian Vande Velde

Published by: Harcourt, 2000
Ebook: 128 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, before pizzarias or Taco Bells, there was a troll named Rumpelstiltskin who began to wonder what a human baby would taste like.

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Fairy Tales Retold

  • Rumpelstiltskin

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Have you ever wondered just what was going on when that odd little man with the long name stepped up and volunteered to spin straw into gold for the miller’s daughter? If you stop and think about it, there are some very peculiar and rather hard-to-explain components to the story.
Vivian Vande Velde has wondered too, and she’s come up with these six alternative versions of the old legend. A bevy of miller’s daughters confront their perilous situation in very different ways — sometimes comic, sometimes scary. Most of the time, it’s the daughter who gets off safely, but sometimes, amazingly, Rumpelstiltskin himself wins the day. And in one tale, it is the king who cleverly escapes a quite unexpected fate.

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It’s true that Rumpelstiltskin has quite a few problems. As a child, I may have wondered about why he wanted the miller’s daughter’s firstborn child, but I never paused to think about all the other oddities the tale presents. In the author’s note, Vivian Vande Velde casually counts up all the things that are wrong with the fairy tale. And believe you me, there is very little that’s not wrong with it.

Some of the more striking questions are: Why would the miller say his daughter can spin straw into gold, knowing full well she can’t? Why would Rumpelstiltskin – who can spin straw into gold – accept a gold ring or necklace as payment? What possessed the miller’s daughter to promise him her firstborn child? And what’s with the king, letting the girl spin gold for three nights, immediately marrying her after that, and then never expecting her to spin gold again? It just doesn’t make any sense!

Irumpelstiltskin problem2n six little alternative versions, Vivian Vande Velde explores ideas that make the story a little less ridiculous and more believable, sometimes keeping the magic, sometimes finding perfectly mundane reasons for what happens. You get a Rumpelstiltskin who wants to eat a human baby, just to see what it tastes like. You get a domovoi who just wants his house to be in order, a female Rumpelstiltskin hungry for love, a Rumpelstiltskin who is a pretty elf, and you even get a story or two with no Rumpelstiltskin at all.

I loved every single way Vande Velde turned this story on its head. Mostly, the miller’s daughter isn’t half as stupid as she is in the Grimms’ tale, but sometimes I rooted more for Rumpelstiltskin than for the humans. In the very last version, it is the king who deserves our empathy and needs to outsmart those around him. The author still keeps a distinct fairy tale-ness to her versions (repetition, the number three, magic, and so on), but she updates the characters to smart, logically thinking people with reasons behind their actions.

The language is modern and colloquial. The backflap says “reading level 10+” and I’d say that’s a fair assessment. Children can read this easily, because as fairy tales should, the writing is simple and feels like somebody telling you a quick story before tucking you in at night. That’s why I also believe this would be a great book for reading out loud. The narrator begins each story with “Once upon a time, before bread was plastic-wrapped and sold in supermarkets, there lived a miller named Otto and his daughter, Christina.” or something in that order. It sets the scene to the distant and unknown fairy tale past, but it also grounds the stories in the present.

My favorite part, though, was the sense of humor. It’s clean and family friendly but at times so insightful as to make me chuckle out loud. The hungry Rumpelstiltskin from the first story “A Fairy Tale in Bad Taste” for example, is desperately trying to buy a baby for cooking – without much success at first:

Rumpelstiltskin could not find a single merchant selling baby. The closes he came was a woman who countered by volunteering to sell him her teenager, but even then Rumpelstiltskin doubted it was an entirely serious offer.

Vande Velde also ends her tales in great closing lines which I won’t quote here – at least three of them made me laugh. She knows how to make sure her readers gobble up her words (there aren’t that many, to begin with) and close her book with a big fat smile on their faces.

This little collection may not do outrageously innovative things with narrative, language, or setting. But it makes an old fairy tale, whose true meaning has apparently been lost over the ages, a little more understandable. It adds internal logic to a world of magic and makes each ending all the more satisfying for it.

RATING: 7,5/10  –  Very good

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  1. A Fairy Tale in Bad Taste
  2. Straw Into Gold
  3. The Domovoi
  4. Papa Rumpelstiltskin
  5. Ms. Rumpelstiltskin
  6. As Good as Gold
5

FTF Comic Book: Bill Willingham – Fables

This is not a review of the comic book series, or at least not all of it, because I haven’t finished reading it yet. As I write this, the very last few issues are being published, ending the series with #150. My final opinion will depend very much on stories yet to come, but because I am so in love with what I have read so far, I wanted to share with you just a few reasons to pick up Fables.

fables animal farmFABLES
created by Bill Willingham

Published by: Vertigo, 2002-2015
Issues: #1 – 150
Editions: single issues, TPB, deluxe HC
Artists: Mark Buckingham, etc.
Covers by: James Jean (up to issue #81)
João Ruas (since issue #82)

 

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What’s this all about?

In the same vein as best-selling “fractured-fairy-tales” such as Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is Bill Willingham’s runaway hit graphic novel series FABLES. No longer just children’s tales, Willingham has created a new world for these beloved fables…one that exists within our own.When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters created their own secret society-within an exclusive luxury apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side-called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Bigby, Fabletown’s sheriff, and a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the culprit is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.

Where do I start?

That was the first question I asked myself when faced with a ton of comic books, different formats, spin-off and crossover series, computer games, and even more stuff. The biggest help I found on the internet was this post by The Written Word, titled So You Want to Read Fables. The beginning is pretty straight forward but keep an eye on the issue you’re reading. At a certain point, you’ll have to jump into the Jack of Fables spin-off in order to avoid spoilers . Most recently, I read about a crossover episode between Fables and The Unwritten. As I’m not nearly far enough ahead in the series to have reached that particular issue, I’ll worry about that when I get to it.

fables issue 53The next big question is: Do you buy the trade paperbacks or the (super shiny) deluxe editions? Because I like pretty books with pretty covers, I went for the deluxe hardcovers. Let me tell you, they are gorgeous! There are some differences compared to the trade paperbacks, such as little flashback stories, prose stories, or even  1001 Nights of Snowfall, the Arabian Nights of Fables. These are all contained in the deluxe editions at points in the story that Bill Willingham thought suitable. If you buy the paperbacks, some of these will have to be bought separately. Wikipedia has a list of which physical book contains which issues so you can make a nice comparison between the paperbacks and the hardcovers and see what works best for you. As far as my own experience goes, either way of reading them is fine. But it does make a difference whether you hold a big, sturdy hardcover in your hands, with glossy paper, high quality printing and just all around prettiness. If you’re not the kind of person who re-reads comic books or you don’t want to spend that much money, the paperbacks are probably the better choice.

Is it worth it?

Hell yes! The first story arc (and the first half of the deluxe edition #1) called Legends in Exile, didn’t strike me right away as something I needed to read. But once all the characters are introduced in their urban setting, I fell into it. Once I got to know the Fables that can’t be integrated into mundy (read: muggle) society in Animal Farm, I got more and more intrigued. Seeing that not all is well in Fabletown society makes things way more interesting than just following a bunch of characters hiding who they really are.

My love for Sheriff Bigby Wolf knows no bounds, the tension between him and Snow White alone makes this worthwile. Plus, I started really digging the drawing style. It’s not all beautiful or brightly colored but it’s just perfect for the stories it’s telling. The covers, on the other hand, are always stunning!

fables covers

But what really made me go out and buy all the Fables that are currently available in hardcover (plus the entire Jack of Fables spin-off series) was the way seemingly unimportant side characters show unexpected depth in random places. Boy Blue, for example, was a likable guy who is always around, but only when I read The Last Castle did I truly appreciate him as a character. The same goes for Flycatcher – the Fables version of the Frog Prince. Boy, did those two rip my heart out!

Also interesting is the passing of time. While some issues follow up on what has happened before, others jump ahead a year or two in time. The flashbacks and POV switches add another layer of depth to the world. Whereas most of the plot happens in New York, the Fables chosen exile after the Adversary took over their Homelands, we do get glimpses of these fairy tale realms that used to be the characters’ home. Things that seem simple at first turn out to be much more complex and complicated after a while.

reynard fox esquire

Fables contains a world that is bigger than the sum of its parts. I may have come in for the fairy-tales-living-among-us-mundies but I stayed for the people I’ve grown to know and love. Once you know Jack, you’ll laugh at his idiotic schemes. When it becomes clear just how in love Bigby is with Snow, you’ll yearn for the two of them to work out their issues. You’ll rejoice when Rose Red finally finds her place in the world, and you’ll laugh at Flycatcher with tears in your eyes.

My love for Fables took a while to grow but now it is steady and strong and here to stay.

There’s other Fables stuff out there?

I’m only a Fables baby but thanks to the Steam Summer Sale, I went ahead and bought myself The Wolf Among Us, a prequel to the entire comic book series (no prior knowledge needed, no spoilers for the comic books) and have played it a few times since. I will be gushing about that game in a separate post within the next few days. But let it be said here that it is absolutely worth its price.

fairest issueApart from the crossover with The Unwritten (which is on my wishlist now), the women of Fables got their own spin-off series, called Fairest. It’s still ongoing and seeing as Lauren Beukes wrote for it, there is no question I will buy and eat it up.

Some other much shorter spin-offs include Cinderella: From Fabletown, With Love and Cinderella: Fables are Forever as well as Werewolves of the Heartland, a  graphic novel following – unsurprisingly – Bigby Wolf. 2009 also saw the publication of the first illustrated Fables prose novel, called Peter and Max. One look at the cover gives you a clue as to whose story it tells.  1001 Nights of Snowfall is contained in the deluxe editions but not in the paperbacks. It’s not vital to the overall story but trust me when I say you don’t want to miss it.

1001nights of snowfall

If all of that spinning off and prequelling turns your head, there’s a handy Fables Encyclopedia.

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FTF Radar – Upcoming Fairy Tale Retellings

Getting excited about upcoming books is a thing of beauty, if you ask me. Staring at the cover and wondering what the author has in store for you is one part of the pleasure. The other is finally getting your copy in the mail and moving to the couch with a blanket and the book with an invisible “do not disturb” sign over your head. For the fairy tale fans out there, here are a few books coming out this year or early next year that we can all look forward to together.

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R.C. Lewis – Stitching Snow

14th October 2014

stitching snowI am so excited because I have a review copy of this on my Kobo and I can’t wait to get started. The plot sounds a lot like someone was trying to hop on Marissa Meyer’s bandwagon, what with sci-fi mixed with fairy tales, but I’ll give this a fair shot. If you’d asked me a while ago, I would have said my favorite fairy tale was The Snow Queen, but I seem to be reading a lot more Snow White retellings than any others. So maybe my subconscious is telling me something here…

Princess Snow is missing.

Her home planet is filled with violence and corruption at the hands of King Matthias and his wife as they attempt to punish her captors. The king will stop at nothing to get his beloved daughter back—but that’s assuming she wants to return at all.

Essie has grown used to being cold. Temperatures on the planet Thanda are always sub-zero, and she fills her days with coding and repairs for the seven loyal drones that run the local mines.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crash-lands near her home, Essie agrees to help the pilot repair his ship. But soon she realizes that Dane’s arrival was far from accidental, and she’s pulled into the heart of a war she’s risked everything to avoid. With the galaxy’s future—and her own—in jeopardy, Essie must choose who to trust in a fiery fight for survival.

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Claire Legrand – Winterspell

30th September 2014

winterspellIT’S THE NUTCRACKER! Now there’s a story that I never particularly liked in book-form. But, oh, how I loved the animated movie set to Tchaikovsky’s music. I watched it over and over and over, to the point that my old tape is broken and nearly unwatchable. Seeing how I don’t love the original by Hoffman, I have very high hopes for any retelling. And with this cover, I’m already half sold.

The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.

New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.

Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.

Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.

Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.

divider1Alethea Kontis – Dearest

3rd February 2015

dearest*squee* Alethea Kontis has stolen my heart with the Woodcutter family. Friday, the quite, caring, loving sister is a perfect fit for retelling The Wild Swans and The Goose Girl (The Wild Geese?). I shouldn’t have gobbled up the first two books so quickly because now I have to wait soooo long.

In her third book about the delightful Woodcutter sisters, Alethea Kontis masterfully weaves “The Wild Swans,” “The Goose Girl,” and a few other fine-feathered fairy tales into a magical, romantic companion novel to Enchanted and Hero.

Readers met the Woodcutter sisters (named after the days of the week) in Enchanted and Hero. In this delightful third book, Alethea Kontis weaves together some fine-feathered fairy tales to focus on Friday Woodcutter, the kind and loving seamstress. When Friday stumbles upon seven sleeping brothers in her sister Sunday’s palace, she takes one look at Tristan and knows he’s her future. But the brothers are cursed to be swans by day. Can Friday’s unique magic somehow break the spell?

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princess of thorns9th December 2014

This blurb contains some deal breakers (using Game of Thrones’ fame as bait, romantic adventure, warrior princess, ugh) but it also caught my attention with certain buzz words (girls dressing up as boys, sisters saving their brothers, hell yes!) so I’m approaching this neutrally and hoping for a great novel.

Game of Thrones meets the Grimm’s fairy tales in this twisted, fast-paced romantic fantasy-adventure about Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, a warrior princess who must fight to reclaim her throne.

Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

It seems that fairy tales are alive and kicking because there are a ton more retellings coming out next year. I thought I’d keep the list short and only add books that come out in the near-ish future. Expect another post like this around the end of the year – 2015 looks to be an excellent year for the fairy tale retelling.