Fireborne

by Rosaria Munda
First sentence “Later, he would be known as the First Protector, and under his vision the city would transform.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence and some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 9-12) of the bookstore.

This book has been on my radar for a while. One of the teens in the teen review group I run at the bookstore loved it. And then it won the Young Adult Speculative Fiction Cybils. And I finally got around to reading it (thanks, COVID19!)

Lee is the son of one of the former rulers of Callipola, the same rulers that were overthrown in a revolution ten years ago. Lee’s kept his memories (he was only seven at the time) to himself as he grew up in an orphanage and then, later, as one of the chosen dragon riders. Annie is the daughter of Highland farm workers, who were heavily taxed and then murdered by the former rulers. She landed in the same orphanage as Lee and also became a dragon rider, and became Lee’s close friend as they grew up.

Fast forward ten years and Lee and Annie are vying for the position of Firstrider, leader of the dragon fleet and on their way to becoming Protector. Lee seems to be the obvious choice: he has talent and skill and charisma. The problem: his exiled family has shown up and wants to take their position back as Rightful Rulers of the island, and they want Lee to help. The question: will he join his family? Or will he stay true to the values of the new republic he has chosen to serve? And for Annie: can she rise to the situation she is constantly being told she’s unworthy of? And will her knowledge of who Lee is get in the way?

This really is fabulous. Incredibly well-told and captivating, I found I couldn’t put it down. Both Lee and Annie, as well as most of the minor characters, were well-developed, and had incredible arcs. Munda thought through her characters well, and I found them to be complex interesting people to spend time with. I loved the slow-burn romance, even if I could see it coming, enjoying the circuitous path Munda took to get her characters there. I loved her version of dragons; it felt more Anne McCaffrey than anything else, but it was also its own thing. Munda took her time to create a lore of her world, and I found myself wanting to know more.

It was an incredible read I can’t wait to see where Munda takes these characters and this world next.

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.

Girls of Paper and Fire

by Natasha Ngan
First sentence: “There is a tradition in our kingdom, one all castes of demon and human follow.”
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Content: There is sexual assault and rape (though mostly off-screen) as well as physical violence. There is also some implied sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’ve seen this one on the shelf for a while, and it looks intriguing, but I had NO idea what I was about to get into.

In some ways, it’s easier to explain the world Ngan created: it’s vaguely Chinese (she’s half-Malaysian) but she’s flipped the usual hierarchy: the Moon caste, who are fully animal demon, are on the top. Then come the Steel caste, who are half human and half demon. And finally, on the bottom, are humans, the Paper caste. There are a lot of politics in the book, but the long and short of it is that the Paper caste are treated horribly and discriminated against. Especially under the Demon King. As part of this discrimination, though it’s framed as a “privilege”, eight Paper caste girls from across the country are taken to be the king’s private prostitutes.

Lei, our main character, is one of those Paper Girls. She is taken, against her will, because of her golden eyes, to be a bribe from one of the king’s generals. And it’s not an easy life. Lei deals with the politics of court life, the discrimination from the demons in court, resentment from the other Paper girls.

It’s complex and hard to explain, but Lei is a phenomenal character to spend time with. She’s open and vulnerable, yet fierce and determined. Ngan is expert at balancing the world building with character development, and the chemistry between Lei and the person she falls for is intense! In fact, she does an excellent job with intensity all around: the fight scenes, the chemistry, everything.

So, yeah. It’s a hard one to explain (and to sell), but I’m definitely picking up the second in the series!

A Blade So Black

by L. L. McKinney
First sentence: “Alice couldn’t cry.”
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Content: There is some violence and three f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid if they were interested.

The day her father died was the first time that Alice saw a Nightmare. She didn’t know what it was, this monster snarling at her and trying to eat her, but since she could see him — and the mysterious boy, Addison Hatta, who slayed the Nightmare for her — she was recruited to become a Dreamwalker and help protect the world from the Bad Things in Wonderland.

Except it’s not as easy as it sounds. Hatta’s been poisoned, the Black Knight is on the loose, and it’s getting harder and harder to keep out of trouble with Alice’s mom (seriously: she kept sneaking out, and I was just waiting for the time that everything would got to hell because Alice’s mom locked her in her room or something like that). It doesn’t help that Alice’s friendship with her best friends is on the rocks because of all of the Wonderland stuff.

Oh this one was fun! I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland, but McKinney used her source material so incredibly cleverly. With the Queens and Knights and the Vorpal Blade, and the Tweedle twins (they were Russian: Dee and Dem). It was all very, very cleverly used. And on top of that McKinny wove an incredible magic world, but gave it real world consequences. I know I snarked a bit about Alice’s mom, but McKinney thought about the consequences of Alice’s actions, and gave her mother realistic reactions. I appreciated that Alice’s mom was a viable presence throughout the book, acting as any good mom would.

It’s a good start to a series, and one that I’m actually curious to find out where it takes me.

Gideon the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir
First sentence: “In the myriadic year of our Lord — the ten thousandth year of the King Undying, the kindly Prince of Death! — Gideon Nav packed her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and she escaped from the House of the Ninth.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s violent and it’s sweary (including many f-bombs). It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

So, this one is hard to describe. The short pitch is lesbian necromancers in space, though that doesn’t really begin to touch on what really goes on in this book. The slightly longer version is that Gideon is an orphan raised by the Ninth House, which (in this world) is tasked with guarding the Locked Tomb for the Undying Emperor. However, when the heirs to each of the nine houses are called to the emperor to compete to be one of his Hands, Gideon is dragged along as the cavalier to Harrowhawk, the Ninth heir, into a world of intrigue.

But that doesn’t even give you a glimpse into the total awesomeness that is Gideon the Ninth. Not just the book, either: Gideon the character is so very awesome. Full of snark and sass and grit and just plain awesomeness, she’s a marvel. And I adore the relationship that grows between her and Harrow. Muir is a marvel of a writer, and the world that she has built is unique and brilliant and wild.

I can’t wait for the rest of this trilogy.

The Queen of Nothing

by Holly Black
First sentence: “The Royal Astrologer, Baphen, squinted at the star chart and tried not to flinch when it seemed sure the youngest prince of Elfhame was about to be dropped on his royal head.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher
Others in the series: The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King
Content: There’s a lot of violence, some mild swearing, and one tasteful sex scene. It will be in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Before I get started: if you are one of those sorts of people who like to wait until the whole series is done, then now is a good time to read this. It’s the final one in this trilogy, and it wraps the story up beautifully.

If you’ve been reading this series as it comes out, this is more of the lush yet fierce storytelling that Black has given us in the past two books. It feels tighter than the other ones; it comes in under 300 pages, and doesn’t have many side trips. Jude — who has been exiled by her husband, the High King Cardan — gets into faerie, nominally to save Taryn from the inquest involving her husband’s murder (which was brushed over… maybe Black will write a book about Taryn sometime; she turned out to be more interesting than I originally thought), but ends up in the middle of the court politics as her faerie foster father Madoc challenges Cardan for the crown.

It’s a compelling story, as Jude tries to stay a step ahead of the magic and Madoc and her feelings for Cardan, and it’s a tight ending to a fantastic trilogy. I loved the ending that Black came up with; it fits with the characters and was satisfying enough that when I finished I didn’t feel like she cheated me out of something. It’s a gorgeous trilogy and I will definitely miss spending time with Jude and Cardan and their friends and family.

Mighty Jack and Zita the Spacegirl

by Ben Hatke
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: Zita the Spacegirl, Legends of Zita, The Return of Zita, Mighty Jack, Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
Release date: September 3, 2019
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the boosktore.

Jack thought he closed the door to the world of the giants. Zita’s been home from her adventures for a while. They’ve met, and they’re hanging out (well, Zit and her friends have pretty much moved in, much to Jack’s mom’s dismay) and Jack is way enamored with Zita’s stories, which makes his friend Lilly kind of angry. But then the giants start breaking through the final door, and suddenly Zita, Jack, Lilly, Maddie, and Joseph (plus assorted robots, space creatures, and goblins) realize that they have to work together to save the world from the impending giant invasion. So, they do.

I adore these books and think they’re great fun. And this one is no exception. I loved the theme of friendship through it all, and how that even though you meet someone new, that doesn’t mean you give up your old friends. And how the sum of many is greater than the strength of one. It gave me everything I’ve come to love about Hatke’s work: adventure, heart, and humor. And it’s a satisfying end to the series.

I’m just really sad this series is ending.

Steel Tide

by Natalie C. Parker
First sentence: “The stars felt close tonight.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Seafire
Release date: September 17, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is some mild swearing and a lot of violence. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for Seafire, obviously.

When we last left our erstwhile captain, Caledonia, she had attacked the Bullet ship of the Fiveson Lir, and commanded her crew and ship to leave while she took on Lir personally. It didn’t go well, and she was left for dead.

She was rescued, thankfully, by a group made up of former Bullets, calling themselves the Blades. They live free on an island, not bothering anyone. Until someone gets wind that’s where Caledonia are, and they join her fight against the all-powerful Aric. Caledonia’s crew has been captured and so she and the Blades work together to get them out, and then prepare to take on Aric and overthrow his all-consuming control.

It’s not the best summary, but there’s a LOT going on in this book. It’s definitely a middle book: it doesn’t really build to much, though there is a great battle scene at the end, but is more laying ground for what is to come next in the final book. That’s not to say this isn’t a GREAT read: it totally is. Parker has succeeded in writing ship battle scenes that keep pages flying, while developing intriguing and complex relationships not only between the girls on Caledonia’s regular crew, but also among the Bullets. You actually feel it when people die (and they do die; she’s not a timid writer). And I adore Caledonia as a captain; she knows how to lead, and the fact that she doesn’t do things on a whim, but actually has a purpose for her madness is brilliant.

I can’t wait for the next one!

The Girl the Sea Gave Back

by Adrienne Young
First sentence: “‘Give me the child.'”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: September 3, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a lot of violence, some of it gory. It will be in the YA section of the bookstore.

Tova, a member of the Kyrr tribe and covered in tattoos that brand her as a Truthtongue, has spent the last 13 years in exile with the Svell tribe. Their Tala (religious leader? I wasn’t entirely sure the role of the Tala) took her in, even though most of the people of the tribe are terrified of her and what she does. And for a people that believe strongly in Fate, Tova is terrifying: she throws the runes and reads them and They Come True.

The Svell tribe is at a crossroads: they are planning to attack of the tribe to to the north, the Nadhir, but the reasoning is kind of fuzzy. I think it’s because the Svell just wants to conquer the world. At any rate, they massacre a border town, kill the Nahdir leader, and then massacre another town on their way to invade the capital.

Tova, in all this, has been throwing runes that perhaps show the ultimate domination of the Svell, but she becomes uneasy allied with them. And, upon seeing Halvard, who becomes the Nadhir leader after the leader is killed, she decides to throw her fate in with them.

As you can tell, the plot of this one is a bit, well, hard to sum up and make interesting. I did like Tova as a character — she’s an exiled person (she’s supposed to be dead, but it’s never really explained why she’s not) trying to make a home with a people who never trusted her. The romance is a bit forced; I liked Halvard, but I never really got why they were attracted to each other. Thankfully, the romance is mostly only implied; the real conflict is Tova and her desire to get away from the Svell who are really committing an act of genocide. But I’m not sure that Young really delved into the conflict between Tova and the Svell leaders. Tova took the blame for the genocide — because she threw the runes — rather than the leaders, where it belonged. I guess I just wanted more out of this; it just felt hollow.

And the ending is… weird. I won’t go into it, but I felt like it came out of nowhere.

So, I wanted to really like this book. There are parts that are great. But, in the end, it wasn’t all that I was hoping it would be.

Equal Rites

by Terry Pratchett
First sentence: “This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of those questions.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s short, but there is small print and no chapters, which might throw some kids off. It’s in the adult science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore, but there’s nothing inappropriate for a kid.

I’ve been meaning to read more Discworld books for ages and ages… well, since the Tiffany Aching arc finished, really. And for some reason — it may have been rereading Good Omens in preparation for the show — I decided that THIS year was the year I was going to get to Granny Weatherwax (at the very least) and the witch books in Discworld.

I did some Googling and found out that this one was a good place to start. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t have it, so I was forced (boo hoo!) to buy it. To be honest, I’m surprised it’s still in print! This is the story of a wizard who goes to bestow his magic on the eighth son of an eighth son, except for that kid ends up being a daughter. The magic gets bestowed upon Esk anyway, and it’s up to Granny Weatherwax, who is the witch in the town of Bad Ass (*giggle*) to figure things out. She initially resists: girls are witches and boys are wizards after all, and that’s just the Way Things Are. But, as Esk grows, Granny realizes that she has something Different, and that maybe going to the Unseen university is a Good Thing, even if she is a girl.

Unfortunately, the wizards have the same views as Granny originally did: Girls Can NOT be Wizards. But, Things Happen, and it’s plain to everyone that Esk is, actually, a wizard and they just better deal with it or there will be Dire Consequences.

On the one hand, this kind of felt like a pre-Tiffany Aching book. It was written in the late 80s, way before Pratchett made up Tiffany in all her practical wonderfulness. And if I had read this before Tiffany Aching, I might have had a different opinion of it. As it was, I felt like this story had already been told (which, of course, it hadn’t. I had just read them out of order.)

That said, it was quite funny. I loved the way Pratchett personified the wizard staff, and Granny Weatherwax’s bull-headedness, and even Esk’s determination to learn something that everyone was telling her she couldn’t. I could see the bones of other books in there, and I loved it for that.

And now, on to the next one!