Shadow Scale

by Rachel Hartman
First sentence: “I returned to myself.”
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Others in the series: Seraphina
Release date: March 10, 2015
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: It’s pretty complex, when it comes to keeping tabs on everything that’s going on, and it’s fairly long and slow-moving as well. It’s also more mature in its sensibilities, though there’s not much else that would put it in the Teen section (grades 9+). Even so, that’s where I shelve these.

There’s so much going on in this novel that, much like Seraphina, it’s kind of difficult to put all of what’s going on down on paper. (Or the internet, for that matter.) On the one hand, this is a straight-forward road trip: to help her friend Glisselda, who is now queen of Goredd, Seraphina goes on a quest to find the other ityasaari — those who are half-dragon, half-human. She feels that, if she gets everyone in one place, they’ll be able to create a mind-field to keep the renegade dragons out of the city. Seraphina initially thinks this will be a simple task: go into the surrounding countries, locate the ityasaari, get back to Goredd and they will all live happily-ever-after.

Thankfully for the reader, it’s not that simple. There are obstacles in Serpahina’s way, and not least of all is Jannoula, an abused, embittered, scheming ityasaari who has the ability to manipulate the humans (and dragons) around her. She is there every step of the way, adding conflict, tension, and suspense to Seraphina’s path.

Also like Seraphina, there’s much to love about this one. Hartman’s world-building is impeccable, and it’s fantastic to see what she’s done with the other cultures, religions, and people surrounding Goredd. The romance that was budding at the end of Seraphina is still here, but it takes a back-seat to Seraphina’s journeys and allows Seraphina to become her own strong woman independent of anyone else. That said, there’s some surprises by the end of the book, ones that I thought were thoroughly refreshing.

Speaking of the end, about two-thirds of the way through, I worried that Hartman wasn’t going to wrap up the story, but she pulled through. In classic high-fantasy style, she gives us an epic and truly fantastic ending, one that is thoroughly satisfying while staying true to the story, characters, and world she built.

Hartman is truly a writer to keep an eye out for. Whatever she touches is just amazing.

The Lost Heir

Wings of Fire 2
by Tui T. Sutherland
First sentence: “Underwater, Webs couldn’t hear the screams of dying dragons.:
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Others in the series: The Dragonet Prophecy
Content: There’s some dragon violence — a few battles, some one-on-one fighting, and a baby dragon egg is smashed — but other than that, it’s pretty low-key. It resides in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

When we last left our dragonets — the five dragons that were taken when they were eggs and raised by the Talons of Peace to stop the war that’s been going on for too long — they had escaped their captors/guardians and were setting off to find the clans. They’d interacted with the Mud Wings, to some dissatisfying results, and been captured by the Sky Wings (and their bat-crazy queen), but got out of there. Now they’re headed to the Sea Wing palace, presumably because Tsunami, one of the dragonets, is the queen’s daughter. They figure they can find refuge and protection there.

Except — probably predictably — things aren’t what they seem. Sure, Tsunami’s mother, Queen Coral, is happy to see Tsunami. But she’s not very happy to see Tsunami’s friends, and shoves them off to a cave. It’s slowly revealed that Queen Coral’s not a little crazy. And that there are traitors in the midst. And that Tsunami doesn’t fit in as well as she thought she would.

I’ve decided — partially because books three and four are already out, but also because it just makes sense — that the purpose of each of these books is not only to tell an overall story, but to highlight a specific tribe of dragons. And in that latter purpose, Sutherland does a fantastic job of creating an individual world. The Sea Wing palace and world are fascinating — they have their own language that involves flashing stripes, which is pretty cool — and even though Tsunami starts out as a complete brat, she develops into a fairly confident leader by the end. What I found myself growing impatient with was the overarching plot of the war and the prophecy. The menacing posturing by Coral’s friend Queen Blister, the suspicion and automatic mistrust of the Talons of Peace.

I’ve not disliked this series, and it’s perfect for those who enjoyed Warriors or Guardians of Ga’hoole. But I’m probably not going to keep reading. I just don’t have much interest in the overarching storyline.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

Wings of Fire

The Dragonet Prophecy #1
by Tui T. Sutherland
ages: 10+
First sentence: “A dragon was trying to hide in the storm.”
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The dragon war — the fight between three sisters for the Sandwing crown — has been going on for years, wreaking havoc on the kingdoms. The only dragons — as far as the prophecy goes — that can change everything are the five dragonets spoken of in the prophecy. Who have, conveniently, been in hiding, guided by members of the Talons of Peace, for the past six years.

Clay, a Mudwing, is one of those dragonets, and he (for better or worse) has no desire to be a fighter, or to Change the World. He just wants to be with his clan — Tsunami (Icewing), Sunny (Sandwing), Glory (Rainwing), and Starflight (Nightwing) — and to hide from everything. Well, maybe he does want to meet the parents he was snatched from all those years ago. But when things come to a head in the underground caves, and Tsunami propels them into escape, Clay (and his clan) will find out that things are a lot more Dangerous and Ominous than they thought.

This was a lot of fun. The whole prophecy-as-a-copout thing aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the world that Sutherland created. There’s some very despicable dragons to root against, and the dragonets (collectively, though I really liked Clay) are worth rooting for. I liked the complications of politics, the throwbacks to Roman times, and just the whole dragon thing. It’s not as good a dragon book as, say, Seraphina, but then it’s aimed at an entirely different audience. And for that audience, it works immensely well.

Quite good.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)

The Last Dragonslayer

by Jasper Fforde
ages: 12+
First sentence: “It looked set to become even hotter by the afternoon, just when the job was becoming more fiddly and needed extra concentration.”
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Review copy provided by my place of employment.

Jennifer Strange, 15, is just an indentured servant running the Kazam Mystical Arts Management in the wake of owner Mr. Zambini’s disappearance. No, it’s not easy managing a group of magicians whose magic is slowly fading, but she’s managing.

Then one of her magicians has a vision: Maltcassion, the last dragon, is going to be killed at noon on Sunday. By the last dragonslayer. Which happens to be Jennifer.

On the one hand, this little book is classic Fforde (granted, I’ve only read one other of his books): witty, slightly odd, with a tendency for clever names. The story is… intriguing… and interesting alternative history (The Ununited Kingdoms, for example, where Jennifer lives in the Kingdom of Hereford, under King Snood). But, while it’s whimsical, it’s also… odd. I’m not sure quite why I feel that way, just that while I thought the oddness worked in The Eyre Affair, I don’t think kids will get the oddness. Now, to be fair, I may be underestimating the 12-year-old British magic fans out there, but it just felt like a grown-up novel slightly whitewashed in order to make it suitable for kids books.

And while the story is passable and somewhat entertaining, I’m not sure that’s enough to offset the oddness of the book.

Seraphina

by Rachel Hartman
ages: 13+
First sentence: “I remember being born.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: July 10, 2012
Review copy provided by my place of employment.

I should get the gushing out of the way first: I have read books about dragons, some of which were really clever, but I have never seen dragons like this.

And that blew. me. away.

I have struggled with how to sum this novel up, but am completely at a loss. There is so much going on, much of which is best left to be discovered as you go, that a summary is almost impossible. This is what I can tell you: the main character is Seraphina, a sixteen-year-old assistant chief musician in the castle. Except she has a secret, one that will cost her her life if revealed. The country is Goredd, which has been at peace with the dragons for forty years. It’s a tentative peace, one which is hanging by the slimmest of threads. There is prejudice against the dragons rampant in the populace of Goredd, a fire that is barely constrained. And so when Prince Rufus is found beheaded, it’s everyone’s — from the military down to the common people — assumption that the dragons did it, and there are people calling for blood.

And then there are the dragons. They walk among the humans, as humans: learning, teaching, advising, observing. Granted, they stand out to the humans; dragons are more rational, less emotional, mathematically minded, and not at all spontaneous. But, even though they are differences, it’s their ability to mimic humans that is the root of all the prejudice and terror in Goredd.

Really, that’s all you need to know to start. Know this as well: this is an excellent first novel. It’s a rich, rich world that Hartman has created, full of religion, politics, romance, music, and action. And while it works as the start of a trilogy, it also stands on it’s own, bringing the story arc to a satisfying conclusion, while leaving threads open to pursue in later books.

But really, read this one for the dragons. You’ll never see them like this again.

Calling on Dragons

by Patricia Wrede
ages: 9+
First sentence: “Deep in the Enchanted Forest, in a neat gray house with a wide porch and a red roof, lived the witch Morwen and her nine cats.”
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Others in the series: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons

It’s about a year after Cimorene and Mendenbar got married, and things are afoot in the Enchanted Forest. Again. (Yes, it is the wizards. Again.) This time, Morwen was clued into the problems by a six-foot-tall rabbit named Killer. Things get a little trickier when they — Morwen, the cats, and Killer, of course — get to the castle to find out that the wizards have stolen the sword that the magic of the Enchanted Forest is tied to.

Unfortunately, that means Mendenbar (unfortunately, in A’s opinion) has to stay in the forest, while everyone else (including Killer) goes off to find the sword and get it back from those nasty wizards. They end up on a few adventures, and in some interesting pickles. Eventually, the six-foot-tall rabbit ends up a six-foot-tall blue floating donkey with wings, but that’s neither here nor there, really.

In fact, that’s kind of what we thought of this book, as well. A lost interest in it; even though I read it out loud to her, she bailed about 2/3 of the way through. And the ending — which practically requires you to read book 4 — was highly irritating.

We should have bailed at the last book, but now that I’ve come this far, I think I’m just going to have to read the next one just to see how it ends.

Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book One

by Bill Willingham
ages: adult
First sentence: “Once Upon a Time…”
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The fairy tale characters we all know and love — from Snow White and Price Charming down to Jack (of Beanstalk fame) — have been exiled from their country, driven out by “The Adversary.” They’ve been living in New York City (well, the ones who can pass for human, anyway; the rest are exiled to a farm in upstate New York) for centuries, trying to be happy with their living.

In the first of two books in this deluxe edition, “Legends in Exile,” it seems Rose Red (Snow White’s sister, if you didn’t remember) has been murdered. Her boyfriend, Jack, finds the scene and races to tell Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf, of course, who turns out to be a bit of a shapeshifter), who takes on the investigation. Snow gets involved, not only because Rose is her sister, but because she’s the mayor’s (King Cole) deputy, and as a result, really runs the community.

It’s an intriguing premise, this. It’s a halfway decent murder mystery (I didn’t figure it out; I wasn’t paying enough attention to the details), and what Willingham (and his team) have done with the characters is interesting. But what I really liked was the world-building here. There’s a lot of conflict just within the community, and the fact that they’re in hiding just intensifies those conflicts. It was fascinating. But what I really liked was the second book, “Animal Farm.”

In that, we get to see the non-human characters (the three pigs, the three bears, some dragons and other assorted woodland creatures). They’re sick of being forced into their farm prison for the sake of the community’s security, and want to not only overrun Snow and their government, but want to go back and take their homeland back from The Adversary. The revolution is run by Goldilocks, who is quite ruthless in her vision and execution. It’s fun, it’s fascinating, and it hooked me on the series.

Except: my library is missing all the books between this one and Arabian Nights, so I’m quite at a loss where to get the next installment. I’ll have to do some research…