Igniting Darkness

by Robin LaFevers
First sentence “Maraud awoke to the sound of retching — a retching so violent his own stomach clenched into a fist and tried to punch its way out of his throat.”
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Others in the series: Grave Mercy, Dark TriumphMortal Heart, Courting Darkness
Content: There is a lot of violence and abuse. It’s in the YA section of the bookstore.

I am thinking that LaFevers needed to write this duology because, while Mortal Heart ended on a positive note, there were many threads left hanging open. And it’s just nice to tie everything up.

Picking up where Courting Darkness left off, this one is more political intrigue (beause Genevieve has the ear of the French King and is trying to sway him away from being advised by his sister, the regent), machinations (Sybella vs. her horrible brother), love (which is always quite satisfying) and war (Sybella, Genevieve, Beast, and Maurad manage to spectacularly put down a rebellion).

At this point, it’s safe to say that if you liked the rest of the series, you will like this one. It’s a bit overlong, and I was truly losing patience with the king who was petulant and super dense, but I suppose LaFevers needed to keep it a little bit historically accurate.

In the end, though, it tied up all the loose ends and gave everyone if not a happy, then a hopeful, ending.

The Midnight Lie

by Marie Rutkoski
First sentence: “There were warning signs in the War that day that anyone could have seen.”
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Content: There is a lot of emotional abuse and some physical abuse. There is off-screen sex. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but it’s probably better for the older end of the range (depending on the kid).

Nirrim has grown up as an orphan in the Ward, a place on this remote island where they stick the lowest caste, the Half-Kith. She works for Raven, both in Raven’s tavern and as a forger of passports for Half-Kith to escape the Ward. Then, one day, a rare bird is sighted in the Ward, which Nirrim catches and turns in. Which gets her arrested and thrown in jail to be tithed (they take the blood of the Half-Kith), which is where she meets Sid. And her life completely changes.

The plot is a bit convoluted to get into, but it involves gods and magic and Nirrim waking up to her situation and acting for change. The book is more character and inner-dialogue driven than plot-driven, but it worked for me. Rutoski has written a beautifully worded book (it reminded me of Laini Taylor’s work), that drew me in and kept me turning pages, even when it felt like nothing was happening.

And the love story is gorgeous as well. I enjoyed the push and pull between Sid and Nirrim, how they bring out the best in each other. Though one word of warning: it’s a first book (though it reads like a stand alone) and knowing that may cushion the blow of the brutal ending.

Definitely worth reading.

A Heart So Fierce and Broken

by Brigid Kemmerer
First sentence: “I miss knowing exactly what time it is.”
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Others in the series: A Curse So Dark and Lonely
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some moments of violence and mild swearing It’s in the teen section of the bookstore.

This picks up where the first book in the series left off: Rhen and Harper have put off their enemies to the north in Syhl Shallow, but that seeded unrest in Emberfall. There are rumors that there is another heir, someone more suited to the crown than Rhen, and that his former Commander of the Royal Guard, Grey, knows who it is. But, Grey is refusing to tell. Meanwhile, one of the daughters of the Syhl Shallow queen, Lia Mara, would rather have peace than war, but instead of negotiating, Rhen imprisons her. She and Grey fall in together (after a series of incredibly vicious circumstances) and try to broker peace between the two countries.

It’s been forever since I read the first in this series, and from what I can gather over at Goodreads, that’s a good thing. This book follows Grey and Lia Mara, leaving Rhen and Harper to be background characters. I think if you read these two too close together, you get invested in Rhen and Harper’s story and there’s a bit of backlash with the change in narrators. As for me, I didn’t mind. I liked seeing the growth in Grey and Lia Mara’s quiet strength. I liked following their stories and learning more about characters where were background in the first book. I though it was an interesting development in the story, moving away from the fairy tale retelling and becoming its own thing. It’s probably not perfect, but I found it entertaining and am curious to see where the next book takes these characters.

Arrows of the Queen

by Mercedes Lackey
First sentence: “A gentle breeze rustled the leaves of the tree, but the young girl seated beneath it did not seem to notice.”
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Content: There is some violence, and some (tasteful) attempted sex. It would be in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, if we had it.

Talia is a young, sheltered girl in a Holding that is super patriarchal, giving all the power to men and making women either wives or nuns in service to the Goddess. But Talia dreams of something more: she wants to be a Queen’s Herald. She’s secretly read tales of the Heralds, with the horse-Companions and the adventures, and longs to be one of them. She has no idea how one becomes a Herald, but when she turns 13 and her elders start talking about marrying her off, she runs off. And is chosen by one of the Companions, Roland. From there, Talia is thrust into a whole new world, one of classes and work and acceptance and challenges and friends. At first, she is hesitant, but as the months and (eventually) years go on, she becomes more confident with her role not only as a Herald, but as the Queen’s Own.

I’ve read Lackey before, but not in a while, and not very much. I like her style, though there seems to be a lot more exposition than either action or dialogue. Perhaps that was part of the style when this was written in 1987, but it did drag the story down. That, and Talia was super perfect. I liked her — I mean you have to be heartless if you don’t — but she wasn’t the most interesting character. She was always stalwart, always likable, and always had the answers to her problems. It got old pretty quickly.

Even so, I liked her adventures and the world that Lackey built, and I’m not sorry I dipped into this one.

Module 4: The Grey King

Cooper, S. (1975). The Grey King. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Genre: Fantasy, Newbery winner. Definitely fantasy, as it pulls from mythology and uses magic. And a good example of a Newbery winner.

Book Summary: Will, who in an earlier book in the series realized he was an Old One, and tasked with protecting the world from the rising forces of the Dark, is convalescing in Wales, recovering from a bout of hepatitis. While there, he meets Bran, a strange local boy who helps Will fulfill part of a prophecy by stopping the Grey King from garnering his forces and waking the Sleepers in preparation for the final battle.

Impressions: This is the fourth in a series, so reading it as a stand-alone probably isn’t recommended. However, I routinely re-read the second, The Dark is Rising (which, incidentally, does work as a stand-alone), so I felt comfortable dipping into this world out of order. However, for those who approach this as a stand-alone will probably be lost. There is a lack of character development, especially with Will (because you’re already supposed to be familiar with him), but also Bran, though he has a greater character arc. Cooper is a master storyteller, deftly weaving personal concerns — the neighbor who is convinced that Will’s uncle’s dogs are killing his sheep — with a greater sense of menace and tension. There is a moment when Bran’s dog is killed, and the tension between Bran and Will is palpable, especially because, as a reader, you can relate to Bran’s frustration with being a player in a higher plan and struggling with a sense of a loss of freedom because of that. Cooper’s writing is tight and elegant as well, accessible enough for younger readers (though probably not as young as eight), but smart enough to keep an adult turning pages. My only issue is that in spite of the “lesson” on speaking Welsh, I know I still don’t pronounce the names right in my head. But that’s a minor quibble. It is also one of those Newbery winners that not only deserves the award — it really is an excellently written book — but has held up as a timeless story over the past 40 years.

Review: The School Library Journal wrote that, in spite of lacking in character development, the book added much to the high fantasy genre, with the  most intriguing thing being the dichotomy between the plain lives of the Welsh sheepmen and the higher, mythical role the land — and Will — plays around them.

Wilton, S. M. & Gerhardt, L.N. (1975, October). Book reviews. School Library Journal, 22 (2). 104-105.

Library Uses: I would put this one on a display of fantasy books, series books, or older Newbery winners that are still great to read.

Readalikes:

  • Before I give other recommendations, I ought to recommend the most obvious and suggest reading the rest of this series: Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; and Silver on the Tree.
  • The Prydian Chronicles, beginning with The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander: While not specifically set in Wales, this series is probably the most like Susan Cooper’s books. It has the Welsh feel, the struggle between Dark and Light, and a male main character who finds out he is More than he originally thought.
  • The Raven Cycle, beginning with The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater: This one is loosely based on Welsh mythology, though Stiefvater says that Cooper’s books were an inspiration for it. A group of four boys and one girl, the daughter of psychics, set out looking for a dead Welsh king in the hills of Virginia. Conflict, magic, and epic writing follow.
  • The Merlin Saga, beginning with The Lost Years, by T. A. Barron: I found there is a lack of Welsh fantasy books for kids (though there is more for adults), so I tapped into the Arthurian side of Cooper’s books. Barron’s series is the definitive works for kids interested in Merlin and Arthurian legend. The books follow Merlin as he becomes a powerful wizard.

Pashmina

by Nidhi Chanani
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: The main character is in high school, and there is some references to sex. I’m not 100% sure if it’d put it in Middle Grade Graphic Novels, but it doesn’t feel like it fits in with the Teen Graphic Novels either. Hm.

Priyanka Das has a decent life: she and her mom live in America, and whileshe has unanswered questions about her father, or why her mother left India, she has a pretty good life. That is, until Pri’s curiosity about India gets sparked by a magical pashmina Pri finds in her mother’s suitcase. The pashmina gives Pri a glimpse of India, and she desperately wants to go. And she does, eventually. But when she gets there, it’s nothing like she expected, and yet everything she wanted.

On the one hand, this is written by an Indian, and it very much embraces the “India as amazing homeland” narrative that so often comes up in Bollywood movies. The narrative that one can find oneself in India is not a new one, and yet it still is something that resonates. It works here, primarily because it’s not a white person co-opting that (says the white person), but because Pri’s does actually need to go to India to see what it was her mother left behind. I liked that part of the story. The magical pashmina, though, didn’t do much for me. It does have a good reason to be there — it specifically helps women take charge of their lives — but it felt, well, forced. That, and Pri felt younger than she was in the book, which was a slight disconnect.

Even with those (slight) criticisms, it was a good story about family, and about how learning about your family’s past helps accept and understand your present. It was also nice to “visit” India for a bit.

A good debut novel.

The Dungeoneers

bdungeoneersy John David Anderson
First sentence: “Colm Candorly had nine fingers and eight sisters.”
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Content: There’s some violence and it’s a little thick and somewhat intimidating for reluctant readers. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Colm is the son of a cobbler in a small town in this world. They’re struggling for money (9 kids is no walk in the park) and one day, Colm decides that he’s going to help out. He heads to the town square and proceeds to pickpocket those who look like they could afford it. His father is (rightly) appalled, and heads out to talk to the magistrate. Instead, he brings back Finn Argos, a rogue and a teacher at the training school for Thwodin’s Legions, a band of dungeoneers — those who raid the hoards of elves, dwarves, and orcs for treasure.

I really, really , really wanted to like this one. It’s essentially a Dungeons & Dragon’s adventure in novel form. In Colm’s little group where he’s the rogue, there’s a mage, a druid, and a barbarian (she’s pretty awesome) and together they work to become awesome. There’s another group that bullys Colm’s, and there’s predictable ups and downs at school. I ended up skimming the last third, because I just got bored with it. It wasn’t doing anything new and the characters weren’t enough to keep my interest. Which was disappointing.

(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.)