2

Tanith Lee – White as Snow

Wow, this book was such a downer! I had thought Robin Hobb puts her characters through hell but Fitz’ fate is almost comfortable compared to what Tanith Lee does to her version of Snow White and the evil stepmother. This was one of the first books I read this year but writing about it turned out to be harder than expected.

white as snowWHITE AS SNOW
by Tanith Lee

Published by: Tor, 2000
Ebook: 320 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Once upon a time, in winter, there was a mirror.

Once upon a time there was a mirror. . . .

So begins this dark, unusual retelling of the story of Snow White by the writer reviewers have called “the Angela Carter of the fantasy field”—a whole novel based on a beloved story, turning it into a dark and sensual drama full of myth and magic.
Arpazia is the aging queen who paces the halls of a warlord’s palace. Cold as winter, she has only one passion—for the mysterious hunter who courts the outlawed old gods of the woodland. Coira is the princess raised in the shadow of her mother’s hatred. Avoided by both her parents and half forgotten by her father’s court, she grows into womanhood alone . . . until the mirror speaks, and blood is spilled, and the forest claims her.
The tragic myth of the goddess Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, stolen by the king of the underworld, is woven together with the tale of Snow White to create a powerful story of mothers and daughters and the blood that binds them together, for good or ill. Black queen. White maid. Royal huntsman. Seven little folk who live in the forest. Come inside, sit by the fire, and listen to this fairy tale as you’ve never heard it told before.

Once upon a time there was a mirror, and a girl as white as snow. . . .

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Tanith Lee doesn’t mess around, does she? I had never read anything by her and didn’t know what to expect. One chapter in, I knew I had fallen into a dark, terrifying version of “Snow White” – one that is as far from Disney as you can get. We follow Arpazia, still a girl at the beginning of the story, on her journey to become the evil stepmother obsessed with her own beauty and jealous of her own daughter.

White as Snow retells the story of Snow White but mixes in Greek mythology, a combination that works surprisingly well. It explores feminist issues, adds a hint of Persephone and Hades, but all with a distinctly dark, sinister tone. The story begins with 14-year-old Arpazia who is captured and raped by the conqueror Draco. From this horrible event springs her daughter Candacis, nicknamed Coira, this story’s Snow White. Arpazia is easily the most tragic character in this story and nobody can fault her for despising the child that was conceived in a terrible, violent deed. From that moment on, Arpazia lives as if entranced. She is traumatized by the events of her childhood (and her adult life, for that matter) and despite becoming queen, the only happiness she finds is with the forest king Klymeno – or Orion – with whom she has a love affair.

Coira grows up unloved among servants and seems just as removed from the world and as cold-hearted as her mother. Both women are fascinating characters, even if it’s hard to call them likable. Because of their distance and lack of emotion it was hard to identify with them (not that I wanted to!). I watched them more like figures on a stage rather than putting myself into their skin – which was probably the author’s intent. The violence, distance, and hatred that these two have to live through is not something I’d want to experience – Arpazia and Coira deal with the trauma in their own way, but each removes herself from others emotionally. If you haven’t guessed by now – this is an utterly depressing, dark book that shows barely a glimpse of hope until the very end.

white as snow detail

What interested me most were other aspects of the novel. The juxtaposition of Arpazia and Coira – old and young, ugly and beautiful, the hating and the hated – and the way fairy tale elements have been incorporated into the story were simply stunning. Even the seven dwarves show up, although they are not all male and none of them really likes Coira. The more you advance in the story, the more Greek mythology takes center stage, especially when Coira meets “the king of the underworld”, a man (not very subtly) named Hadz. He, in turn, aptly names her Persephah.

Which leads me to another interesting idea. A lot of characters use more than one name, depending on the role they play or who they’re dealing with. Candacis/Coira/Persephah is just the most obivous example. Arpazia calls herself Lilca at one point, Klymeno/Orion is another one. The dwarves all have “stage names” and we only learn Stormy’s true name (which is also from Greek mythology and very, very fitting).

It is difficult to say whether I liked this book. My kneejerk reaction is: Yes! It was excellently written, passes the Bechdel Test many times and generally focuses on the female characters and their development. On the other, the readers are confronted with a lot of rape, psychological and physical violence, so that I have to correct myself and say: No! I did not like that! This is a book that gives you a bad feeling in your stomach but at the same time enthralls you with its ideas and the mash-up of mythology and fairy tale. “Snow White” may be its basis but the novel deals with issues that the Grimm brothers probably didn’t care much about. A woman’s role, especially when she loses her beauty by committing the crime of ageing, the balance between old beliefs and new religion, the love (or lack thereof) between mother and daughter. Tanith Lee doesn’t tell her readers what to think or how to feel about these issues, she simply confronts them with characters who have been through hell and whose personality is a clear product of their past. I just couldn’t hate Arpazia for pushing her daughter away. Yet I felt for the girl who so desperately wanted a mother’s love.

The big symbol of this fairy tale is and always will be the mirror. White as Snow features that mirror but whether it is truly magical or Arpazia is slowly gliding into madness is never explained. But mirrors in general play a big part, both real and symbolic. Arpazia looks at Coira and believes to see herself when she was young. Coira thinks that Hadz is the male mirror image of herself. The novel is full of symbols and references that connect it to its fairy tale origins. White snow, red blood and black trees appear over and over, of course.

After a few hundred pages of darkness and depression, it was a relief to get a somewhat hopeful ending. I will definitely try more books in Tor’s Fairy Tale series but I very much doubt I will re-read White as Snow. It was too hopeless and the two protagonists too distant. This was a good book, no doubt, one that questions the tropes of the fairy tale, one that explores how the female characters came to be who they are, but it is by no means an enjoyable book. Going from bad to worse, from one horrible event to the next, watching these characters on an endless downward-spiral of violence and destroyed hopes, made this into the opposite of a comfort read. I like it when authors show fairy tales for the dark things they are, but I must admit White as Snow may have been a little too dark, a bit too bleak and hopeless for me.

MY RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

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Other reviews:

0

Alethea Kontis – Dearest

Well, this was a mess. I have squeed like a little girl about the Woodcutter Sisters series and, naturally, was looking forward to meeting Friday Woodcuter, reading about her romance. I knew what to expect by now. A very child-friendly, very light love story interwoven with a gazillion fairytales and featuring a wonderful loving family. Except this time, it really didn’t work.

dearestDEAREST
by Alethea Kontis

Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015
Hardcover: 288 pages
Series: The Woodcutter Sisters #3
My rating: 3/10

First sentence: Conrad slowed his pace, not because he lacked energy, but because the hard calluses on his feet had cracked and started to bleed.

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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Let me preface this rant with a few words: I adore Alethea Kontis and her love for fairy tales is obvious for anyone who follows her on twitter or has watched her Fairy Tale Rants. And I am very sorry about the harsh things I am going to say below. Okay, now that’s out of the way, lemme get going…

Dearest is the third in the Woodcutter Sisters series and deals with the third-youngest daughter, Friday. I always found her to be the most boring sister but her kindness, patience, grace and persistence reminded me of Beth from Little Women. And she’s a Woodcutter, so amazing things were bound to happen to her. When Saturday displaced an ocean in Hero, this magical mishap had serious consequences. I loved that Dearest picks up with these consequences, namely Friday almost drowning.

The suddenly-there ocean also has repercussions on the kingdom at large which leads to the first big problem these books still have. Arilland is now ruled by Sunday and Rumbold, both incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced. So naturally, when the population flocks to the castle for shelter and food, they have no idea what to do about it. So far, so understandable. But then they ask the children if they have any idea how to feed all these people and these children – CHILDREN – have to tell them that there’s an orchard and some onions and all sorts of other edibles all around the castle, ripe for the plucking. The scene I’m referring to was sweet, no doubt, but it made all the adults (or barely-adults) look so stupid, I have no words. The simplicity of these books was charming so far but when a queen, who surely has advisors and knowledgable folk surrounding her, has to ask random kids for help “simple” doesn’t cover it. One could argue that fairy tales use politics in a similar way but that doesn’t make them any more interesting to read about.

So. Friday’s at her sister’s castle. She takes care of the children, turns chores into games, Mary-Poppins-style, and stumbles across a flock of swans (is it flock?) which – surprise – turns into boys at night. I had known this was a retelling of “The Six Swans” so I had been waiting for this moment most eagerly. Except then Kontis does what she’s always been doing, only a gigabillion times worse. Friday sees one of the swan-boys and – poof – they’re in love. Literally in love. Not in lust, not attracted, not slighty crushing on each other – but earth-shattering, sacrificing-everything, fuck-my-family-you-are-my-life-now love. Urgh.

Which was made all the worse by the set of wholly boring and flat characters, none of which I cared about. I had 300 pages of pure tedium on my hands. There came the point where I only continued reading to see the swans’ curse lifted. As curses go, this is one of the harsher ones. The girl can only save her brothers by (1) remaining silent at all times, and (2) picking stinging nettles, making thread, weaving that thread and sewing a shirt for each of her swan-brothers. Only then would they be turned back into humans and she would be allowed to talk again.

But the fairy tale is turned onto its easiest possible setting in that the sister doesn’t have to spin, weave, and sew the shirts alone. She gets help. In fact, the entire castle helps. I’m not saying it isn’t still hard work but, come on (And why her nickname is Rampion – as in Rapunzel – is anyone’s guess). Even with a whole army of people spinning for her, the fairy tale still has some sadness in store. One of the shirts is not completed in time and and so the curse is not fully lifted. One boy has to live with a swan’s wing after being turned human again (in some versions he remains a swan). Which is a bummer. What happens in Dearest? He turns into a fucking angel. Seriously. Man with wings. A full set. Plus two working arms. Needless to say, the swan/boy in question is Tristan, Friday’s newfound but eternal love. I know this is for children but this felt like such a cheap cop-out I kept screaming at the book like a crazy person. It cheapens everything, all the hard work that went into making the shirts. If a piece of cloth turns the brother into an angel, why bother making a full shirt at all? Just throw some nettle-rags at them and there you go. Angel brothers.

Usually, the Woodcutter books focus on one fairy tale but throw in references to many, many others in clever and subtle ways. In Dearest, three of Friday’s charges are called Wendy, John, and Michael. This has no importance for the plot whatsoever, so to me it’s nothing but a gimmick. Peter Pan doesn’t show up (although this might have improved the book). Friday’s magic had the same gimmick-y feel to it, showing up when it’s useful and moving into the background when not. Magic shouldn’t make sense – that’s why it’s called magic – but the internal worldbuilding was just a mess. Puzzle pieces were forced together and if they didn’t fit, they were made to by any means necessary. The author seems to have always picked the easy way to solve a problem instead of surprising her readers. She even went for a literal deus ex machina at the end.

dearest fanart

The biggest strength of these books has always been the Woodcutter family dynamic. Put any three of them into a scene and, usually, fun ensues. In this volume, we get to see Monday and Sunday, although mostly in their capacity as Amazing Beauties or Queenly Queens. Nobody has any personality. Even the evil guy is so evil that he just doesn’t make sense. Take over a kingdom and burn everything to the ground? Then kill most of the population? Well… that doesn’t really work out, does it. Now you own destroyed, burned lands without any people to rule over. I have no problem with a baddie who is evil because he enjoys it. But give them some sense.

Since this has turned into a rant without any structure or sense, let me add that the sheer number of mentions of the word “dearest” is staggering. All of a sudden, characters feel compulsed to call Friday “sister, dearest” or “dearest” or “darling dearest”.  YEAH, I GOT IT OKAY???

I think it’s safe to say that this was the worst book in the series and one of the more terrible YA books in general. I really hope Princess Alethea finds back to her old form and improves her writing (no more insta-love please, no matter how much you tell me it’s Magic or Fate). Dearest was a disappointment of gigantic proportions. It does everything wrong you could have done wrong, taking any darkness or difficulties away from the fairy tale and turning it into a flat, dull, tedious book.

MY RATING: 3/10 – Really Bad!

P.S.: And everybody is beautiful. No normals allowed.

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Other reviews (mostly more favorable than mine):

5

Maggie Stiefvater – Blue Lily, Lily Blue

Ah, Renay, how can I ever thank you enough? My love for the Raven Boys had been cemented with The Dream Thieves, but now I’m at the edge of my seat for the series conclusion. Let me join you, legions who are eagerly awaiting Blue’s first kiss (or dreading it), the discovery of Glendower (or not), and the saving of Gansey (or not).

blue lily lily blueBLUE LILY, LILY BLUE
by Maggie Stiefvater

Published by: Scholastic, 2014
Ebook: 416 pages
Series: The Raven Cycle #3
My rating: 8/10

First sentence: Persephone stood on the bare mountaintop, her ruffled ivory dress whipping around her legs, her masses of white-blond curls streaming behind her.

There is danger in dreaming. But there is even more danger in waking up.

Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel.

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What can I say that I haven’t already said about this series? I still love it so so much and what makes me happier than anything is that the books keep getting better. Whereas the first volume focused mostly on setting up the characters, the second one already advanced the plot a fair bit. Ronan’s ability to take stuff out of his dreams was a major surprise and a game-changer of epic proportions. But from the beginning, the overarching storyline was always Gansey’s search for Glendower, the Welsh king supposedly buried somewhere around Henrietta, who would grant a wish to the person that wakes him up. Blue Lily, Lily Blue is where the group finally finds something.

I am still reading this series mostly for the Raven Boys – because I love them to bits, I think we’ve established that – but this book also kept me on the edge of my seat for pure plot reasons. Not only Glendower is buried around the area, but there are supposedly three sleepers, one of which must not, on any account, be awoken. I can say very little about the plot without giving away too much, but I have to mention Gwenllian. That woman is so creepy, I thought for a moment I had fallen into a thriller rather than a YA fantasy. The first encounter with Gwenllian sent literal chills down my spine and I feared for the lives of the characters I’d come to care for so much. Her prophetic sing-song may sound like gibberish at first but, dealing with Blue and the Raven Boys, I soon suspected that there is more meaning to it than we may think at first. Deciphering that meaning is a whole different thing.

But I love how Maggie Stiefvater keeps surprising her readers. Just when you think you’ve got it mostly figured out, you know what kind of story you are reading, something so different happens that the ground gets pulled out from under your feet. Now, some readers may not like this feeling, but I can’t get enough of it. Twist that plot, turn it upside down, tell us all the characters’ secrets. Secrets are a big part of the series but I never had the feeling that a character kept back vital information without good reason. You’ll find no kind wizard reminding the hero that “it’s not time for you to know this yet” or some other bullshit. If somebody keeps a secret, there’s a point to it.

blue lily lily blue detail

This book also puts more focus on Blue’s family again. With her mother gone missing, things are out of balance in many ways. Blue’s world is naturally shaken, but Maura’s disappearance also affects the balance of magic in her household, it affects Calla and Persephone (both of which get to shine, btw). We see omen after omen of Bad Things To Come.  In addition, the Grey Man’s employer has taken it upon himself to solve the mystery surrounding Glendower, seeing as the Grey Man has switched sides. With the introduction of this new villain and his even more terrifying wife, I had plenty to keep me entertained. My nails have been bitten to shreds just thinking about where this mess will lead.

There have also been interesting developments in the Raven Boys’ friendships. Whereas Ronan and Gansey used to be inseparable, Ronan spends much more time with Adam now. Ronan being my favorite anyway, I couldn’t help but get all fuzzy and warm when he shows his kindness in the usual, gruff way, like he is unwilling to admit that he cares for people. He also reveals another secret – a big one – that makes the already complicated plot even more difficult to resolve in a clean manner. Props to the author for not making it easy for herself! But that’s how life is, right? Things don’t always add up nicely, somebody always gets hurt, and wishes just don’t come true.

This book held the perfect balance between advancing the plot, entertaining me on its own merits, and serving as a set-up for the ending. Blue Lily, Lily Blue‘s epilogue was so evil that I understand everybody who’s been screaming for the next book to come out soon. How dare you, Maggie Stiefvater, leave us on a cliffhanger like that? We can expect a lot of things to go wrong in the next and final instalment of the Raven Cycle, that much is certain. But what I’m still pondering in the back of my mind is the outcome of Gansey’s predicted death. I honestly don’t know whether we’ll face a bittersweet ending, a super sad ending or whether Blue has any chance of saving his life somehow. I’m hoping for the best, but suspect that this story will end badly for at least one character, if not more.

And now hurry up and publish The Raven King, okay?

MY RATING: 8/10 – Excellent

1

Jessica Day George – Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

Fairy tales continue to entertain me, especially when they appear in new clothing, alternate settings, or different time periods. Jessica Day George’s book is a pretty straight-forward retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”, one of the most beautiful fairy tales I know. Because it doesn’t take any leaps of faith, this wasn’t an overwhelming book. But in its quiet, thoughtful way, I would call it a successful retelling.

sun and moon ice and snowSUN AND MOON, ICE AND SNOW
by Jessica Day George

Published by: Bloomsbury, 2009
Paperback: 330 pages
Standalone
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: Long ago and far away in the land of ice and snow, there came a time when it seemed that winter would never end.

Blessed – or cursed – with an ability to understand animals, the Lass (as she’s known to her family) has always been an oddball. And when an “isbjorn” (polar bear) seeks her out, and promises that her family will become rich if only the Lass will accompany him to his castle, she doesn’t hesitate. But the bear is not what he seems, nor is his castle, which is made of ice and inhabited by a silent staff of servants. Only a grueling journey on the backs of the four winds will reveal the truth: the bear is really a prince who’s been enchanted by a troll queen, and the Lass must come up with a way to free him before he’s forced to marry a troll princess.

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The thing I have learned about fairy tale retellings is that (1) setup is really important and (2) authors who try to stick too much to the original usually end up cramping their own abilities. I had never read anything by Jessica Day George before but immediately loved the way she set up the story and new I was in for something good.

The lass – not even loved enough by her mother to be given a name – is a good-hearted, kind girl who is easy to like and easy to identify with. The setup of this novel deals more with her relationship to her brother (I should say one of her brothers) who has returned from his travels a broken man. Not only was I surprised at how tender the depiction of Hans Peter’s sadness was but I was equally impressed how the author showed, rather than told her readers, how the Lass and Hans Peter manage to lift each other up, to be one another’s anchor. It was a quiet beginning but at the same time so lovely. It lets you build a connection to the protagonists that gives the rest of the novel more impact.

Another part of the setup that I liked and that is vital to the rest of the tale is the hunt for a mysterious white reindeer. The Lass, again, shows her kindness towards all living creatures when she saves the animal from being killed. From that moment on, it is only a matter of pages until the isbjørn shows up on the family’s doorstep to whisk the Lass away to his castle. Unlike the rest of her family, she can communicate with him and while he doesn’t divulge much, at least they can talk to each other in the “Beauty and the Beast” segment that follows.

sun and moon ice and snowI admit this was not the most riveting part for me. Once arrived in the castle made of ice, the Lass tries to solve its mystery. She is a clever girl and immediately suspects a curse or some other kind of magic that can be broken. Servants who are selkies, satyrs, and other mythical creatures, and that young man who comes to her room every night to sleep in her bed – magic simply must be involved. I couldn’t help but be remindind of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” where the furniture and cutlery talk to the heroine. On the other hand, an entire castle with only a polar bear and a girl could be very, very boring. So I went with it and enjoyed learning about the servants and their backstories.

I am still looking for a more adult retelling that actually takes the “man comes to girl’s bed every night” for the way it was probably meant. I mean, maybe I have a dirty mind, but when I first read that fairy tale, I assumed the two would end up having sex and that the wording is just a euphemism… if you know of a retelling for adults that takes this into account, let me know. This, however, is a children’s book and as such remains clean and sweet and you can read it to your kids without worrying. The young man really does just that: sleep in the same bed with the lass.

The last part of the story is generally my favorite because the girl gets to save the prince who has been taken captive by an evil troll princess. With the help of the four winds, she goes on a long and difficult journey to make right what she has set in motion. Her meddling, her trying to solve the castle’s mystery, her curiosity, is what got the prince into this mess, after all. Again, you just have to love a heroine who takes responsibility for her actions and tries to fix her mistakes. Place a cute animal companion at her side and what would otherwise be a solitary journey that could bore children easily, you get dialogue and banter and friendship. It’s such an easy solution but it makes a world of difference. Anybody who’s been alone for even a short period of time will know that having another creature with you (even if it’s a dog who doesn’t speak with you) helps make a difficult task easier.

Considering how little this retelling deviates from the fairy tale, I’m surprised I had much to say about it at all. I will always lean more on the side of dark, adult, grim fairy tale retellings like Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels or Cat Valente’s Deathless but there is little I can find wrong with one for children if it is done well. And seeing as this is a fairy tale, I won’t even fault the author for the way the puzzle pieces fall into place a little too neatly in the end. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow was good enough to put Jessica Day George’s other retellings (the ones with girls in pretty dresses on the covers) on my TBR pile.

MY RATING: 6,5/10  – Very good

P.S.: In case you’re wondering why I’m writing review after review when it is usually so quiet around the blog – it’s because I need to distract myself from Terry Pratchett’s passing. I hadn’t thought I could cry so much about a man’s death whom I never personally met. But there it is. I’ve been crying since yesterday and every time I look at my twitter feed, all the feelings bubble up again. I don’t know if I can pick up a Discworld book anytime soon without bursting into tears right away but I will try, just to savor the wonderful words this amazing man has left us.

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3

Holly Black – The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

And slowly my faith in YA fantasy is restored. I had known about Holly Black for years but never did start her Tithe series. Then I saw a post about The Darkest Part of the Forest which ticked off all sorts of boxes. But I couldn’t wait to try out this author – throw in a handful of great reviews of her vampire novel (yes, I picked up a vampire novel!) and here we are.

coldest girl in coldtownTHE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN
by Holly Black

Published by: Little Brown, 2013
Ebook: 306 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Tana woke lying in a bathtub.

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.
One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.

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I think it’s safe to say the world is over vampire romances. Which does not mean that when a good one comes along, we won’t enjoy it. Holly Black has taken the vampire myth and put it firmly into the modern world. People in this world know that there are vampires and, in order to keep them from spreading all over the place, have created Coldtowns. But like any other town, big or small, these Coldtowns don’t just exist within their own closed-off culture, they share something with the rest of humanity that many novels still like to forget or ignore: the fucking internet!

The story begins with Tana waking up in a bathtub after a long (and apparently wild) party. A few minutes and one walk through the house later, she realises everybody is dead. Everybody, that is, except her newly infected ex-boyfriend and a vampire in chains. Being a decent person, Tana rescues both of them from the group of vampires responsible for the bloodbath. Being in danger of infection herself, the only place of safety – hers and that of her family – is the nearest Coldtown. So that’s where they go. On the way, they pick up two bloggers desperate to be turned into vampires – it’s a regular Coldtown party.

In Coldtown, things are very different from what I expected. It becomes clear early on that the place is full of both vampires and humans, some of them out for eternal life, others just to report the news from the inside. Bloggers, Vloggers, Reality TV vampire hunters – you name it, Coldtown’s go it. The amount of social media, camera coverage, celebrity status and murder-on-tv is both disconcerting and realistic. That’s what the world is like, after all. You see a picture of someone saving someone else from drowning and wonder why the person taking the picture didn’t drop the camera to help. Coldtown is like that.

Holly Black doesn’t ride on the vampire myth for long, expecting some basic knowledge from her readers. Drinking blood is terrifying and sexy and messy and a necessity of un-life. We know that. But there is one scene – my favorite in the entire book – that encompasses all of these aspects with utter perfection. All I’ll tell you is that it involves a kiss.

Gazing at her for a long moment with something like horror, as though he was seeing her for the first time, he spoke.
“You are more dangerous than daybreak.”

As my readers know, what I care most about in any given book is the characters. Tana made a great protagonist, in that she is a decent human being who doesn’t let friends die to save her own ass. She has almost lost her life and did lose a parent because of the infection but there is no denying the positive aspects of eternal life. Tana’s awareness and her constant questioning of her own feelings and wishes was refreshing to read. She doesn’t blindly run into the new life as a vampire, she tries to remain human. Because she knows that she doesn’t know just what being a vampire entails. I was particularly impressed with the description of her relationship with ex-boyfriend Aidan. Boy, oh boy, I used to know someone just like that – which made the description all the more vivid and believable. But Aidan (unlike that person I knew) has redeeming qualities that make him an acceptable sidekick. In fact, he is almost annoyingly sweet when he wants to be.

Mysterious and sexy, Gavriel is the picture-perfect romantic interest. I didn’t really see any sparks flying until Tana took the initiative (which was awesome), and generally felt we didn’t see enough interaction between Gavriel and Tana to explain their feelings. In the end, very deep feelings seem to already be there. Yes, there is an explanation for their attraction to each other, but love? Nah. But a little suspension of disbelief is necessary for most romantic fantasies I’ve read. Maybe I’m just cold-hearted… Gavriel’s past, however, was highly interesting and the chapters recounting it among my favorites in the entire book. He walks the edge between cunning and insanity and because of that, turned out not to be the stereotypical romantic hero. I loved his unpredictability, the mystery surrounding him and the slow unravelling of his past.

coltown quote

What didn’t sit well with me was how small Coldtown felt. We are told several times that politics within Coldtown are complex, how large it’s grown, how many diverse people and creatures populate it. But the plot sticks with only a handful of settings, remaining much more small scale than I had hoped. Blog coverage is instant so anything that happens to Tana in the vicinity of cameras gets out to the wider world immediately. But being told “You’re famous now” and actually seeing the results of that fame are two things that make a lot of difference. I would have liked more showing, less telling when it came to certain aspects of Coldtown. And I would have loved if one of the settings wasn’t the most famous vampire’s villa. You know, just to mess with readers’ expectations.

The novel touches upon many topics that invite you to think for yourself and for that I applaud it. Eternal life, insta-romance, fame and surveillance, sacrifice and love, it’s all in there. But a little more depth wouldn’t have hurt. Add a couple of hundered pages and you’ve got an excellent book whose merit even YA-haters can’t deny. The ending was surprisingly quiet and, at first, a little disappointing. But the more I think about it, the more I see its perfection, its inevitability. There is beauty in how this story ends. Holly Black doesn’t outright tell us what Tana’s future will be like but for my part at least, I felt an overwhelming rush of hope.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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Kate Elliott – Cold Magic

It’s review catch-up time! I’ve been reading and reading but not posting any reviews. Since it’s one of my 2015 resolutions to keep up on the blog, I’m being a good bloggeress and posting reviews to all the books I’ve read this year. Kate Elliott was a completely new-to-me author and I’d heard nothing but good things about her. The Book Smugglers love her, Renay loves her, so picking up one of her books couln’t possibly be a mistake.

cold magicCOLD MAGIC
by Kate Elliott

Published by: Orbit, 2010
Ebook: 544 pages
Series: The Spiritwalker Trilogy #1
My rating: 7/10

First sentence: The history of the world begins in ice, and it will end in ice.

The Wild Hunt is stirring – and the dragons are finally waking from their long sleep…

Cat Barahal was the only survivor of the flood that took her parents. Raised by her extended family, she and her cousin, Bee, are unaware of the dangers that threaten them both. Though they are in beginning of the Industrial Age, magic – and the power of the Cold Mages – still hold sway.

Now, betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage, Cat will be drawn into a labyrinth of politics. There she will learn the full ruthlessness of the rule of the Cold Mages. What do the Cold Mages want from her? And who will help Cat in her struggle against them?

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Here’s a book that takes your expectations and turns them upside down right from the start. Catherine Barahal and her cousin Bee are best friends. They study at the academy, where genders are segregated and women are clearly not taken very seriously. So naturally I’ve come to expect a steampunk college novel that explores feminist issues – which would have been awesome! Instead, Cat’s story takes a turn when she is forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage and taken from her home and from Bee. (If, like me, you don’t always read the blurb, this comes as a surprise.)

That early twist could have gone quite wrong. Like I said, a college novel with two female protagonists would have been totally up my alley, but then again, the turn the story took instead was equally brilliant so I have no complaints. Cat’s life is somewhat shrouded in secrets. Having lost her parents at an early age, all she has left of her father are his journals, telling of his expedition to the Ice Sea, and a locked with his picture in it. It’s clear from very early on that there is more to Cat than we may think, that she is somehow special, and I am so very tired of prophecies and Chosen Ones that this, too, could have gone terribly wrong. But Kate Elliott manages to just scrape past these tropes and make the story entirely her own.

The world is essentially an alternate Europe but its population is refreshingly diverse. Not only do Cat and Bee have darker skin, the rest of the population isn’t all white either. You’ll find people with fair skin and red hair, people with very dark skin, and all shades in between. Add to that the lizard-like trolls and you’ve got a nice mixture of cultures that make this particular Europe much more interesting than the usual epic fantasy stuff. But characters aren’t defined by their skin color or where their ancestors came from. Cat is her own person and her friendship with Bee was just so wonderful to read about. Friendship between women is still underrepresented in most fantasy fiction (that I read) so I was a little disappointed that the two were ripped apart so soon in the novel.

But this separation leads us to another intriguing character. Andevai, the husband force upon Cat, is an arrogant prick with little care for her comfort or well-being. He’s a snobbish, ruthless, vain sort of guy that was easy to dislike. But in best Mr. Darcy fashion, there is more to him than meets the eye. Slowly, it is revealed that Andevai is not only arrogant and snobbish, but that he does have a heart buried deep down somewhere under all the fancy clothing. I can’t say I really liked him but that ending… oh gods, that ending kind of redeemed him and gave me all the feels. Well played, Kate Elliott!

Throughout the novel, I found myself frequently annoyed at one particular aspect of Cat’s character – one that has to do with that beautiful jerk Andevai. Cat is clever and quick, handy with a sword, and she can definitely take care of herself. She gets scared as much as the next person but her actions are intelligent and make sense. However, when it comes to Andevai, she seems blinded by his beauty, constantly thinking about his full lips and what it would feel like to kiss them. After he’s been treating her like dirt, denying her food, dragging her through the country and generally being an asshole! Look, I get it, Cat isn’t perfect and Andevai is super handsome, and wanting to kiss someone does not mean you have to like them… but please girl, have some sense. There must be other hot guys out there, ones that don’t try to kill you.

cold magic detail

The plot is hard to summarise so I just won’t. Cat is on the run for most of the novel but instead of campfires and a misfit group of heroes, we meet almost exclusively interesting people and creatures that help us learn more about Cat and her past. Again, it was obvious that there is more to her than she knows, but the secrets that are revealed don’t feel cheap or trope-ish. Instead, they leave more questions to be answered in the rest of the trilogy. There are mysteries upon mysteries, politics, class differences, gender inequality – in short, there’s a lot of potential that wasn’t quite realised (yet!) and that I hope to read more about in the next book. Mostly, things were hinted at in an attempt to introduce the reader to all sorts of world building aspects. Personally, I prefer digging into one or two aspects in depth and learning about the others later (say, in the next book) but this is a small concern.

The story is well-written with a cast of memorable characters, but in the end, there was still something missing. It wasn’t so riveting that I couldn’t put it down, the aspects that interested me the most weren’t explored enough – air travel, steampunky-ness, cold magic, Cat and Bee’s relationship – but then again, it is the first part of a trilogy. It was good enough to leave me wanting more so I’ll definitely pick up the next book in the series and see where it leads me. I have the suspicion that there are very cool things in store. Plus, more Cat and Bee, which by itself makes it worthwile. And yes… more Andevai, too.

MY RATING: 7/10  –  Very good

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Karen Lord – The Galaxy Game

Posting an honest review in exchange for a free copy of a book is a good deal, no question. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel slightly guilty when I don’t like a book that was given to me for free. Sure, writing reviews – positive or negative – generates buzz and will probably do the book’s sales more good than harm. But of course I’d prefer to only read books I love rather than ones that disappoint me the way this one did.

GALAXYgame_R.inddTHE GALAXY GAME
by Karen Lord

Published by: Jo Fletcher Books, 2015
Ebook: 336 pages
Series: The Best of All Possible Worlds #2 (sort of)
My rating: 4/10

First sentence: The only cure for a sleepless night was to lie in bed and watch the constellations projected on his ceiling.

For years, Rafi Delarua saw his family suffer under his father’s unethical use of psionic power. Now the government has Rafi under close watch but, hating their crude attempts to analyse his brain, he escapes to the planet Punartam, where his abilities are the norm, not the exception. Punartam is also the centre for his favourite sport, wallrunning – and thanks to his best friend, he has found a way to train with the elite.

But Rafi soon realises he’s playing quite a different game, for the galaxy is changing; unrest is spreading and the Zhinuvian cartels are plotting, making the stars a far more dangerous place to aim. There may yet be one solution – involving interstellar travel, galactic power and the love of a beautiful game.

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In The Best of All Possible Worlds, a book I needed to start twice but ended up loving, Grace Delarua was a fascinating character. Her nephew, Rafi, grew up in strange and difficult circumstances, giving him the potential to be even more exciting to follow than his aunt. The book blurb makes it sound like this story follows Rafi as a main character. That is a lie.

My problems with The Galaxy Game all lead to one big mistake by the author – not picking a main character. There simply was none. Rafi felt more like a side character, showing up occasionally but never being the center of the plot. Rafi’s friend Ntenman tells his parts of the story through first person narrative (for some unfathomable reason, because he is also not the protagonist). Add to that a whole bunch of other side characters, whose parts – like Rafis’s – are told through third person. Sometimes the jumps between first and third person happen within one chapter. One should think that the singled-out first person narrator in a story otherwise told through third person is supposed to be the center of the plot. But that is also not true. We have Rafi, we have Ntenman (who is, unlike the others, at least interesting), there is Serendipity, there are a bunch of others whose names become more and more ridiculous and unpronouncable, and there are cameos by old friends from the first book.

I simply didn’t know who to hold on to. Whose story was I following here exactly? Then again, there are many great novels that don’t focus on one character but on a large cast. If that is what the author wants to do, great, but then they should be careful that the connections between characters and the story that is told make sense.

The Galaxy Game starts out well enough. The prologue offers a glimpse into the future, showing us Rafi as he will be. Now, what drove me to read on was wanting to find out how he got to be that person, how he came to be in that place at that time. The first part of the novel is still somewhat coherent. It introduces Rafi and his two friends, Ntenman and Serendipity, as well as showing the life Grace and Dllenakh are leading now. Considering Rafi’s past experience with psi-abilities, I was hoping for more insight into that sort of life. The Lyceum is a school exactly for kids like Rafi, kids who don’t know their own power yet and should learn to use it fairly. But we don’t get to see any of that. At least Rafi and his friends are introduced and we learn of their relationships with each other, secret crushes included.

But once Rafi leaves for Punartam, things go topsy turvy. I liked certain ideas that Karen Lord presents in this book but none of them were fleshed out enough for me really get into. Social networks have extremely high value on Punartam, and ones connections can even be used like currency. To this moment, I don’t fully understand the wallrunning game – whether that is my fault for reading when tired or Karen Lord’s fault for explaining it badly, I can’t say. The people Rafi meets on Punartam all blur together in my memory. Not only are their at least seven-syllabic names impossible to remember, some of their names were so similar that I confused two characters that really shouldn’t be confused. This may sound nitpicky but choosing names is an important part of writing a good story. The names took me out of what was already a weak plot. I frequently put the book away and only picked it up out of a feeling of obligation (because review copy).

Also on Punartam, we are shown some political difficulties the galaxy is facing. There are talks about transportation, about New Sadira going crazy about keeping its “pure” bloodlines alive (references to which will only make sense if you’ve read The Best of All Possible Worlds, btw.) and there is an underworld and bets about Wallrunning games, and I don’t even know what the point of it all was. The story lacked focus. It was all over the place but stayed nowhere for long enough. Is it about a futuristic sport? About exploring different cultures? About a young man growing up? Intergalactic politics? Well, none of the above but also kind of all of them. It felt like the author tried to stuff too many things into one story and – because of that – didn’t focus on any of them properly.

galaxy game detail

Later in the novel, politics become more and more important (and less and less understandable) and Big Changes may happen to upset the order of the entire world. But, seeing as I never had a chance to care for any of the characters, these events left me cold and unimpressed. See, a book with bad plot and great characters is still a good book. A book with bad characters and a riveting plot may be a decent summer read. But a book with a jumpy plot, no focus, and mediocre, underdeveloped characters – that’s just not a good book, no matter how I twist and turn it.

I was very disappointed, especially because The Best of All Possible Worlds was such a careful, character-focused story in a world that had so much potential. The Galaxy Game reads like a hurried effort to write a quasi-sequel without plan or plot or care. I still love Grace Delarua and Dllenakh, but I can’t say I will remember Rafi, Ntenman or any of the others long after reading The Galaxy Game. I really like Karen Lord, but this book was a galaxy-sized mess.

MY RATING: 4/10  – Not  good

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Caitlín R. Kiernan – The Red Tree

I fell hard for Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl so it’s a bit of a surprise that I waited so long to try one of her other stories. I fully expected to be blown away again. It wasn’t as good as The Drowning Girl but it did haunt me for a few nights.

red treeTHE RED TREE
by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Published by: Roc, 2009
Ebook: 400 pages
Standalone
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: I have visited the old Wight Farm and its “red tree”, there where the house squats ancient and neglected below the bogs that lie at the southern edge of Ramswool Pond.

Sarah Crowe left Atlanta to live alone in an old house in rural Rhode Island. Within its walls she discovers an unfinished manuscript written by the house’s former tenant-an anthropologist obsessed with the ancient oak growing on the property. And as the gnarled tree takes root in her imagination, Sarah risks everything to unearth a revelation planted centuries ago…

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Unreliable narrators are one thing but CaitlÍn R. Kiernan really takes it up to eleven in The Red Tree. Sarah Crowe moves to a remote house to finally write that book she owes her publisher. Instead of actually writing said book, she begins a journal that chronicles the events during her stay in the house. And some of those events are so batshit insane that, while I read, I frequently checked that my boyfriend was around because I did not want to be alone in the house with that book. It’s the stuff of nightmares and what makes it worse is that you can never be sure what’s real and what isn’t.

This isn’t a haunted house story. I don’t even know if it’s a haunted person story. As Sarah becomes more intrigued by and obsessed with the red oak growing outside her kitchen window, things begin happening. Another woman moves into the attic of the house and while they get along well enough, something just isn’t right. That’s pretty much the tenor of the entire book – something’s definitely not right but you can’t put your finger on it.

The narration (and its reliability) depends on Sarah’s mental health, on her memory, on the way she interprets things, so it is naturally flawed. Sarah takes medication for her epillepsy but as readers, we don’t know if she takes her pills regularly, if she takes too many, if she is slowly going insane. A few visits to the famous Red Tree make you suspect the latter – except Sarah doesn’t go there alone. The cellar of the house is yet another mystery, and one you shouldn’t read about when you’re home alone at night. These scenes sent chills down my spine and made the book impossible to put down. Fridge noises, creaky floorboards, and noisy heaters should be avoided  – in fact, I suggest reading this in broad daylight, surrounded by people you trust. It’s that scary.

It seems to be a Kiernan thing that there never is a right place to pause, to put the book away and make lunch, for instance. These books demand to be read in one sitting, without coming up for air. The Red Tree drew me into its descent (whether it’s mental or paranormal) and part of the thrill was wanting to find out whether Sarah truly is insane or whether the tree is actually a force of evil, causing brutal murders and bloody rites over centuries. In the manuscript Sarah digs up from the cellar, the former tenant of the Wight Farm, put down his research about the red tree and some of these chapters are as bone-chilling as the events that happen to Sarah.

In the two books by Kiernan I’ve read so far, the themes are clear and recurring. Women who can’t trust their own minds, who don’t know if or how stable their mental health is, if the things they see are real or a figment of their imagination. It’s not exactly a pick-me-up when you’re feeling down, but these books are just so damn good. The writing just flows from one chapter into the next and even when there are breaks in the text, you don’t want to stop. Just like in The Drowning Girl, Sarah’s journal entries include a short story she wrote (without remebering writing it, I might add), excerpts from the manuscript about the red oak, and descriptions of Sarah’s dreams and nightmares.

As a mystery, the ending was a bit disappointing. It’s true that the (fictional) preface tells us right away that Sarah Crowe will die, but I had hoped for at least some resolution, some glimpse of what the hell is going on around that tree. In that respect, I felt let down, but considering that the book was engrossing and thrilling and scary as fuck throughout, the open ending is really not that big of a deal. I still don’t know what went on in that house (concerning any of the mysterious events that happened in or around it) but that doesn’t change that The Red Tree sucked me into its strange world for a few hours and happily scared the living crap out of me. Nicely done, Ms. Kiernan!

RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Alaya Dawn Johnson – The Summer Prince

Well, this came out of nowhere. The Summer Prince was totally different from what I expected but it completely swept me off my feet. A hundred times. It’s been a few weeks since I read it and I still haven’t quite gotten over my hangover. Short as it is, the story really resonated with me and gives me that warm feeling when I think of certain scenes or descriptions. Believe me, these 300 pages really pack a punch!

summer princeTHE SUMMER PRINCE by Alaya Dawn Johnson

Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013
Paperback: 304 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: When I was eight, my papai took me to the park to watch a king die.

A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil. The lush city of Palmares Tres shimmers with tech and tradition, with screaming gossip casters and practiced politicians. In the midst of this vibrant metropolis, June Costa creates art that’s sure to make her legendary. But her dreams of fame become something more when she meets Enki, the bold new Summer King. The whole city falls in love with him (including June’s best friend, Gil). But June sees more to Enki than amber eyes and a lethal samba. She sees a fellow artist. Together, June and Enki will stage explosive, dramatic projects that Palmares Tres will never forget. They will add fuel to a growing rebellion against the government’s strict limits on new tech. And June will fall deeply, unfortunately in love with Enki. Because like all Summer Kings before him, Enki is destined to die. Pulsing with the beat of futuristic Brazil, burning with the passions of its characters, and overflowing with ideas, this fiery novel will leave you eager for more from Alaya Dawn Johnson.

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Wow! Whoever wrote that blurb tried to do the book justice, but it’s not easy to condense the multitude of its themes into a neat little paragraph or two. Alaya Dawn Johnson balances so many subjects in one story that I am stunned by how well each of them was developed and how her characters didn’t get lost on the way.

June Costa is a visual artist. She does graffiti in her free time but she wants something more. She wants fame, she wants Palmares Três to know that she is the best damn artist in the entire city. June’s ambition is unapologetic, which makes her stand out among literary heroines already, but these ambitions don’t exist in a vaccum. The city of Palmares Três , its inequality, its politics, its technology and traditions are as much protagonists as June herself.

I find it hard to talk about any one aspect of the novel without going into long explanations of how the city of Palmares Três works. Which makes it all the more impressive that Alaya Dawn Johnson managed to sneak in all her world-building without boring her readers, dumping information in random places or explaining things in the middle of the plot. Let’s just say, Palmares Três is a highly complex city. In future Brazil – future, as in after everything was bombed to shit – the city is built as much on tradition as it is on modern technology. There are divides between the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the technophiles and those afraid of new technologies. It is also a city based on tradition – one in particular plays a role in this book. The Summer King, chosen by the people, rules for one year alongside the queen, only to be sacrificed at the end. The auditions reminded me a lot of reality TV – you choose to be Summer King but you may not be the only one. Cameras follow the candidates everywhere, interviews are conducted, and the people of Palmares Três watch their holos to make an informed decision.

When Enki becomes Summer King, it is clear from the beginning that he is unlike his predecessors. Coming from the verde, the slums of Palmares Três, his agenda is clear but takes shape only when he collaborates with June to create art. What The Summer King teaches, among other things, is that art can take all kinds of shapes. It doesn’t have to be a picture or a piece of music, a sculpture or a dance. Art can be a statement, a wake-up call to all the politicians pretending the world is perfect. That is exactly what June and Enki set out to do. But this, too, seems like such a small part of a much bigger story. Technology is so advanced that living to see your 150th birthday is nothing special – and with that comes conflict between generations. The political system in general is wildly interesting. At its head, the queen rules, but with her are the Aunties (sort of like ministers) and, of course, the short-lived Summer Kings.

I’ve been rambling about the world-building (because it is seriously awesome!) but the story is still about June. Her fraught relationship with her mother, her trying to live up to her father’s memory, her best friend Gil and his romance with Enki… there’ so much to explore. Palmares Três was a refreshingly diverse place. After June’s father died, her mother remarried one of the Aunties. June’s best friend Gil has a relationship with Enki. Sexuality may not be an issue in Palmares Três but that doesn’t mean the city is perfect. Enki may sleep with Gil, June’s mother can marry a woman, and nobody bats an eye. But the city has other problems, trust me.

I won’t even try to summarize the plot. June’s quest for fame as an artist is a driving force, of course. But then so is her relationship with Enki and with the city she lives in. Palmares Três lives and breathes and while not all is perfect, June realizes that it is her home and special in its own way. YA dystopias are still all the rage, what with the last two Hunger Games movies coming out, and I cannot stress enough how unlike them The Summer Prince is. This is not about a world that is completely messed up, abandon-all-hope-style, and that needs a gigantic revolution to be fixed – if it can be fixed at all. It’s a world in which people genuinely try their best. These powerful people may not all be good and their efforts may not always lead anywhere, but Palmares Três is not without hope.

The ending seems pre-decided from the start and you may not expect a big surprise. Summer Kings die after a year, that is a fact. But Alaya Dawn Johnson didn’t end her book on a purely melancholy note. Instead, June has grown into herself, has learned something about the world she lives in and about the people she loves. There is a bittersweet note to the end that filled me with joy and hope and greed for more of Johnson’s books. I loved every chapter, every page of The Summer Prince and (similar to The Goblin Emperor) am hoping for a sequel even though there really shouldn’t be one…

MY RATING: 8,5/10  – Excellent!

P.S.: Look at that cover. It’s rare that everything on a book cover actually pertains to the story but in this case, they nailed it. June, her art, the pyramid city – it’s all right there. Plus, it’s just really, really pretty! divider1Other reviews:

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2014 in Review – Spotlight on Diverse Reads

Wow – I am so late with this post. I had hoped it would go up a little closer to the beginning of the year, but better late than never, right? Right! In my Favorite Books of 2014 post, I told you that I tracked not only what books I read but also how they hold up in terms of author and character diversity.

While I had no problem at all with reading more female authors and keeping a balance between author genders, I didn’t read all that many books that featured diverse characters.

Did I read as many books by women as by men?

Looking back at my reading year, it feels like I only read books by women. As it is quite often, my perception is wrong. I did read more women authors than men but the amount of female-authored books is not as extreme as I thought.

Author Gender 2014I read 33 books written by men and 53 books by women. There were two collaborations – Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan’s excellent Wakulla Springs, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga Volume 3. As these are two male/female collaborations, I counted one book for each gender. For next year, I’ll probably add a new category in my spread sheet for collaborations and anthologies – after all, I may not always be lucky enough to have an even number of man-woman-teams and then how do I count these authors?
These stats are not bad though, right? I read a lot more women authors this year (which is probably due to not having any more Discworld Witches books left) than last year. The Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Challenge is definitely what gave me the initial kick, and once you’re in that mode where you actively seek out not just women authors but women authors who you’ve never read, it becomes a habit. Instead of going back to the same (fantastic) authors I had loved for years, I tried a lot of new ones – and now my list of favorites is becoming ridiculously long.

When did I read the most and the least?

My reading has been spread out pretty logically throughout the year. Obviously, in the months where I had some time off work, I managed to read a lot more books. The years when 10 books per month were the norm are over, however. The way things are going now, I’m happy if I read 5 books a month, especially if they’re not all comics.

books read per month 2014

I had some time off work in both June and December. Considering how insane last year was, I’m surprised that I read so much during the first 6 months. In summer, things started getting a bit less busy, work hours went back to something resembling normal so I think I must have spent most of August sleeping instead of reading. I had no particular goals for how many books per month I wanted to read, I just think it’s interesting to look at the stats. :)

So how about diversity?

As promised in my Favorite Books of the Year post, let’s take a look at how many books by authors of color I read, how many diverse characters I met in 2014 and just generally how much I still have to work on picking more diverse books.POC authors 2014
Meh… that’s not great, is it? I am confident that next year I’ll read a lot more authors of color, just because I discovered a few of them in 2014 (Helen Oyeyemi, Octavia Butler,…) whose books I really enjoyed – and they have backlists for me to catch up on. 25% would be nice, so let’s aim for that in 2015.

I did a little better with diverse characters this year. The thing that struck me, though, was that the books featuring characters of color are usually the ones that generally have more diverse characters. All of the disabled characters I read about, for example, were found in books that also featured a protagonist of color or LGBTQI characters. I get the feeling that contemporary YA fiction is where it’s all happening, but then those books never appealed to me much. I always expect to find “issue books” and those are really not my cup of tea…

POC characters 2014

See now that’s not half bad. Almost a quarter of all the books I read featured characters of color. I was strict in counting them, too, so minor characters didn’t count. I may have let the odd sidekick into these statstics but only if they were vital to the plot. The rest are all protagonists. The same goes for the LGBTQI characters. The absolute stand-out book for these two charts is Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, a book that is so full of diverse characters it might have gone terribly wrong. Except it didn’t. The heroine, despite suffering from a disability that follows her every step she takes, doesn’t let it define her life. The plot doesn’t evolve around the disability, it’s just something that is in the back of your mind all the time.

LGBT characters 2014

As for LGBT characters – they are still a minority in the books I read. Again, I dislike issue books so I mostly read books with LGBTQI characters where the plot is not about them being gay, transgender, intersex, or what have you. Malinda Lo’s blog diversity in YA is a good source for YA books by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters, but you know my fragile relationship with YA fiction. It’s getting back on its feet what with brilliant writers like Maggie Stiefvater and Ysabeau S. Wilce, but I’m still careful when picking my YA fantasy books because I just can’t handle another useless love triangle, dumb heroine, or trope-laden storyline. Thanks to the interwebs, it shouldn’t be too hard to find recommendations, though. I’ll set my goal to at least 10 books featuring an LGBTQI protagonist for 2015.

Disability in the books I read is an even smaller minority  – I didn’t even make a chart, as I read only 3 books featuring disabled characters (and looking at that pie chart makes me sad). They were Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters, Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine and Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension. In Broken Monsters, a character is diabetic but she is not a protagonist. In Sister Mine, the protagonist’s sister has one leg that is shorter than the other and she has to walk with a cane or walking stick. If I had stuck to counting only protagonists, that would leave Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension – which has more than just one disabled character.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is getting better at featuring diverse characters but they are far from the norm. I will continue to seek out books that show different aspects of life – even fictional life in fantasy worlds, on space ships, in fairy tales and wherever else – and all kinds of different people.

My resolutions for 2015 include keeping the balance between books written by male and female authors, reading more diversely than I did in 2014, and also finding a balance between comics and novels again. Oh yeah, and my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal is now set to “only” 90 books. That is just a little bit more than I managed to read in 2014, but then it was a crazy year (work-wise) that I don’t want to repeat. Balancing author genders is nice but a healthy work-life balance is what I’m really putting my focus on in 2015.

Any blogging resolutions?

Well, yeah. I’ve been posting less frequently, writing half-reviews that I never published, and no reviews at all for some books. I’ve never been a schedule blogger. Normally, I finish a book, gather my thoughts, write them down and share them with you guys. As I type this, I have at least six unpublished reviews lying around on my harddrive.

My resolution is to find more time to interact with my book blogging friends (including at least one read-a-thon!), read my ARCs and review time in a timely manner, and generally post more often again. Wish me luck.

Happy Reading, everyone!

all the books