Tag Archives: fantasy adventure

Book Reviews: Clearing the Fog with The Dam Keeper

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and authors' bios.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and authors' bios.When Pixar art directors get together to work on a graphic novel series, you have to expect excellent illustrations and story. It seems that the series is actually based on a short film from the two animators from 2014, and that they had intended a feature length film that, to my knowledge, has not been released. There seems too to be a series of short episodes under the title Pig: The Dam Keeper: Poems, released the same year as the first graphic novel. I’ve seen none of the animated pieces.

I am less attracted by the art style of these characters—which is very cartoonish and round—than to the background illustrations, which are soft and subtle and gloriously detailed. It was the description on the book’s flap and then the first few pages of text and illustration that got me to take the first home from the library, though, on a whim.

“Nothing lives in the fog… except memories. Painful memories. They haunt me. Memories of emptiness and loss. The dam holds back the sea of black fog.”

That’s fantastically poetic for a children’s graphic novel and fantastically bleak.

The protagonist Pig becomes the de facto dam keeper after his father, mad with grief, leaves the dam for the world beyond, which is shrouded in a dark and deadly fog. Still a child, Pig tries to balance his responsibilities as dam keeper—a job that the townsfolk have forgotten the importance of—with school and a friendship that he has built with Fox. Fox, more free of responsibility than Pig, has made a new friend in the school bully, Hippo, who frequently targets Pig. Fox tries to bridge her two friends into a trio, but neither Pig nor Hippo is particularly willing to see past first impressions.

An accident at the dam strands the three characters together in the wasteland beyond the town. Lost, they attempt to find their way back home and must rely on each others’ strengths to see them there: Pig’s brains, Hippo’s brawn, and Fox’s kindness.

Fox’s kindness leads them to the blind lizard Van, who promises to help the children home—but first they must retrieve—liberate—Van’s truck from a city very like their own with an even more impressive dam—but in this industry has made the air inside the city walls so foul that the three require their gas masks to breathe.

As they travel across the wasteland in Van’s stolen truck, they find more cities and more civilizations that have found ways to survive in what Pig has always believed to be a dead wasteland.

They narrowly escape being sacrificed by one such civilization to a creature of smoke, which they discover to be a machine with the insignia of the dam keepers on its side.

Throughout all of this, Pig keeps seeing the ghost of his father.

By the end of the second book, the reader begins to see the changes that their adventures have wrought in the three friends manifest. Pig loosens up enough to join his friends in attempting Van’s silly dance. Hippo crushes Van in a hug when they are reunited, and he is friendlier towards Pig.

It must be mentioned too that I appreciate a series with a female and two male protagonists that has no romantic entanglement in sight.

These authors favor a slow reveal through dropped bits of dialogue over a more straightforward and immediate reveal.

A good deal of the storytelling is done through the illustrations. Many of the issues driving the misfortune of the world are only hinted at and must be inferred: pollution, unsafe industrial practices that harm the environment and quality of life, forgetfulness, tribalism, ignorance, deforestation. Some of these I may be incorrectly inferring without the whole story too. There’s a third book that I have yet to read.

I think for this series about child protagonists who find their world turned upside down learning so little so slowly works.

Both of these books ends on a cliffhanger, and given the current state of things, I have not been able to arrange to have the third book in my hands.

The villains in Ru Xu’s Newsprints & Endgames and Kazu Kibushi’s Amulet series are (literally) more concrete than the ones here, but I think there are certainly some thematic similarities between the three, and this may be a new series for those who have enjoyed either. I have read two volumes of each, which is the full story (100%) for Ru Xu’s, two-thirds (about 66%) for Dam Keeper, and only about 22% of Amulet, so my comparisons may yet prove flawed.

***1/2

Kondo, Robert and Dice Tsutsumi. The Dam Keeper, Book 1. New York: Tonko House-First Second-Roaring Brook-Holtzbrinck distributed by Macmillan, 2017.

Kondo, Robert and Dice Tsutsumi. The Dam Keeper, Book 2: World Without Darkness. New York: Tonko House-First Second-Roaring Brook-Holtzbrinck distributed by Macmillan, 2018.

Intended audience: Ages 7-11.

This review is not endorsed by Robert Kondo, Dice Tsutsumi, Tonko House, First Second Books, Roaring Brook Press, or Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Healing and Unlearning with a Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and samples.

Having read and loved the second book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, I knew I would go back to read the first. I expected this to leave off nearer to the beginning of the second, but it did not. I stand by my assertion that you can begin this series with the second. The two are really individual stories.

Little is said in this novel about Felicity’s childhood or what brings her to the Scottish bakery on which the second book opens.

This novel focuses on the elder Montague, the heir apparent, Henry “Monty” Montague. The book opens on the morning of Monty’s departure with his best friend Percy Newton on their Grand Tour, on which Monty’s younger sister, Felicity, is to accompany them a small part of the way on her way to finishing school in Marseilles.

But Monty’s father is determined that this should not be the dissolute last hooray that Monty hopes it to be. He assigns them a chaperone. He warns Monty that he will not embarrass the family and especially not be caught in any compromising situation with another man or he will not be allowed to return home to his position.

But Monty knows already that he has developed romantic feelings for Percy.

The three are not long on the Continent before the trouble begins.

Spoilers ahead!

Monty is caught sans trousers with a woman in the apartments of the duke of Bourbon, and the Montagues and Percy leave Versailles in a cloud of whispers.

That might have been smoothed over, but Monty’s idle fingers filch a valuable object that looks like a useless trinket from the duke’s desk.

Their carriage is waylaid by a violent group disguised as highwaymen on the road to Marseilles.

Separated from their carriage, their chaperone, and their possessions, the three teenagers stumble to Marseilles.

But the revelation of the fate that awaits Percy at the end of this tour—not law school as he has told the Montagues but an asylum where he is being committed because of his incurable epilepsy—makes Monty especially question the direction of their tour.

With much cajoling from Monty, the three are pulled off course, abandoning their chaperone and carriage and leaving with only the money that Monty is able to wheedle from a young bank teller on the strength of a silver tongue. Their sojourn in Barcelona introduces an element of magic into the story.

The tour becomes a quest—a race against the duke of Bourbon—to retrieve a possible panacea (making this a particularly poignant read just now; who doesn’t want access to a panacea?) that Monty hopes will cure Percy, free him from the institution, and make it easier for the two of them to somehow be together—even if Monty isn’t at all sure what a happy ending with Percy could possibly look like in a world that expects him to step into the role of an earl and produce heirs of his own to continue the aristocratic line.

This book had everything that I wanted. It was an exciting adventure novel with pirates and swordplay and magic and music and mystery. And it dealt with contemporary issues well. Monty struggles with the world’s reaction and his own reaction to his bisexuality and is deeply effected by the parental abuse that he has suffered. Poor Percy struggles not only with the world’s reaction to his epilepsy but also to his mixed race heritage, the racism of white Europeans towards his darker complexion. Felicity fights against sexism and the future that society has planned for her—a loveless marriage and a life of minding house (her struggles especially are further explored in the second book).

The book is weighted by angst that helps to balance the swashbuckling and dissolution of the external journey that the characters take.

As the world went sideways and everything here in the US began to shut down, I handed this book to a number of customers (enough that we sold through our stock in paper- and hardback) as just a fun, action/adventure, and a way to visit faraway places without leaving the safety of the house.

Right now I am unable to return the library’s copy. I may just have to read it again.  I have already re-read parts of it, particularly the ending.

I hope that the third book comes out on schedule this summer so that I can spend some more time with this writer, Monty, and the Goblin.

****

Lee, Mackenzi. The Montague Siblings, Book 1: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen-HarperCollins, 2017.

Intended audience: Ages 13+

This review is not endorsed by Mackenzi Lee, Katherine Tegen Books, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Wilder Girls, Infected and Quarantined

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's bio.

I read four novels in full and half of another and about 30 pages of one more for Barnes & Noble’s new YA Book Club in 2019. This was my favorite of them all. It was advertised to me as Lord of the Flies with a female cast. In Power’s novel a strange disease has struck an isolated island that is home to an elite girls’ school. The island has been quarantined, and the girls have already survived eighteen months in isolation when the story begins. The girls form new social strata. They form strong bonds with fewer people. But they form bonds. It is not every girl for herself. And there is order to their society. The few remaining adults still hold authority over the loose coalition of cliques.  There is still a sense of acting towards a collectively good and a collective goal of survival of as many as possible.

It’s honestly been too long since I last read Lord of the Flies for me to intelligently compare the two.

The disease, which affects everything living on the island—human, animal, and plant—turns things more wild, monstrous. The trees grow taller and the forest more dense. The animals in the forest grow large and turn carnivorous while their still living bodies begin to decay. It affects the girls in different ways. Some have protruding, spiked spines breaking the skin along their backs. Some glow in the dark. Some sprout scales. Girls die of the Tox—or of the changes that their bodies undergo because of it.  But some survive, and not everyone who survives the painful changes views these changes as monstrous.

The government sends supplies, but there are never enough supplies, and there is never a cure.

This is a novel that explores what makes a person human.

This is a story about survival and friendship and love, about trust or distrust of the authority, particularly male and adult authority over girls. This is a story about the ties between families and friends and what might sever those bonds.

I don’t remember this being a particularly uplifting story, but it is a story about surviving disease and about surviving quarantine that some of you might find timely.

The novel itself is fairly short, clocking in at 357 pages, and I found especially its latter third fast-paced.

SPOILERS:

When Hetty, one of the POV characters, is chosen for the elite group that crosses the island to fetch the supplies from the dock and bring them back, she discovers that one of the few remaining adults, Ms. Welch, is making the girls dump many of the supplies that are sent. It is not until later that she understands that she is trying to keep the girls from being either poisoned or cured.

The disease is revealed to be a disease released from melting permafrost, so this is a science-fiction more than a fantasy, though I hope no such disease is caught in our ice.

****

This review is fairly incomplete, but I’m afraid it’s now been 6 months since I read it, and I passed it quickly to a friend who wanted to read it. I’m writing this one from memory, and my memory is failing me.

Power, Rory. Wilder Girls. New York: Delacorte-Penguin Random, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Rory Power, Delacorte Press, or Penguin Random House. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Shelfie: July 22, 2017: In Over Our Heads

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This has been a hell of a week or two.  How fitting that the next photo in my shelfie album is from a time when I was dealing with a personal, medical emergency (then a broken humerus).

But that was no hell compared to this.

Unlike most of the world, it seems, I am still working at a store with the public.  The fear, the grief, the unknown, the added precautions, the stress of my coworkers and the public have all compounded—and we had a death in the family from covid-19, and I’ve had to deal with that ordinary grief while those around me discuss death and the statistics of dying as if the deaths are numbers.

I can’t write or edit the partial review that I had had ready.

So here instead is a photo of one of the most heart-twisting sentence fragments in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

SPOILERS!

(In this time of stress, I’ve turned again to Harry Potter.  I’m right now re-reading Chamber of Secrets.)

I hope you are all doing better than me.  I hope you are staying away from public places and staying safe.  Be well.  Be careful.  I won’t promise that we’ll make it through this whole and hale, because I already haven’t, and chances are that many of us will be affected in some way—and all those promises have been painful for me to hear and read this week.  But look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers said.  There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for, as said Tolkien.  Or was that bold, brilliant speech the invention of the writers of the Lord of the Rings film scripts (Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens)?

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Book Review: Studying Portal Fantasies and Asexuality and Solving Murders in Every Heart a Doorway

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, and author's bio.

Being asexual can feel like being one of the Whos of Whoville during the trial of Horton the Elephant, shouting desperately “We are here! We are here! We are here!” but feeling like no one can hear. This is only the second book that I have read with a character that identifies as asexual. The protagonist in this actually uses the word asexual to refer to herself and her orientation, which the other, Felicity Montague from Mackenzi Lee’s Montague Siblings does not. And it’s such a relief. It feels like someone hears. Even if it is only one kind-hearted elephant with ginormous ears and the rest of the jungle still can’t hear and refuses to believe.

I was a little disappointed that Nancy, the asexual character in question here, is marked as an outsider and considered a suspect by her peers for her association with the dead.  I would have enjoyed more I think a story about an asexual character who is liked and accepted by her peers—as much as Nancy’s social exile is here not related to her asexuality.  And I did enjoy Nancy’s story apart from her asexuality.  I just wish in a way that the two stories—that of her asexuality orientation and what that means to her and that of her disassociation from the land of the living—hadn’t been found in a single character.

It was the knowledge that the protagonist describes herself as ace that got me to pick up this book, though it had been recommended to me on the basis of its concept before.

It recommends itself well. The eponymous wayward children are those who have visited other worlds and have returned and are struggling now with how to live in our world. That is a unique concept. And I enjoy the idea of exploring what happens after most plots end, after the world has been saved, after the villain has been slain.

But this is a weird book.

It will not be for everyone.

Beyond increasing asexual visibility, I’m still trying to decide if it is for me.

I enjoyed it.

But I didn’t love it like I expected to do.

I didn’t fall in love with McGuire’s prose the way that I expected to do.

This is a book that seems partially a murder mystery, partially a bildungsroman, a school story specifically, partially a study of portal fantasies as a genre—all while refusing to settle into a genre itself. There’s only a little magic in this world. We visit none of the portal worlds for more than a glimpse.

I did enjoy the murder mystery, but I didn’t get wrapped up in the whodunit the way that I expected to do or the way that I wanted to do. I didn’t feel drawn to guess or invested in guessing I think because I felt like I lacked information as characters were slowly added to the novel even after the murders had already begun.

I liked the characters, but I didn’t really feel as though I got to know any of them as much as I would like to do. This is a series, and it seems like later books might more fully explore some of the characters to which we are introduced, but not Nancy and not Christopher as far as I can tell who were some of the more intriguing to me, Nancy because I want to savor time getting to know other aces and Christopher because I found his world and his magic intriguing, which seem to be closely tied to the Land of the Dead found in Mexican mythology.

I did like and enjoy getting to know Kade whose coming out as transgender got him expelled from his world and his childhood home in this world, though not before becoming a hero and the goblin prince.

Jack grew on me. I look forward to getting to know her better, but I’m not sure that I want to explore with her her High Reason, High Wickedness world, which is where the next book heads.

I am glad that I read this. I am debating still whether or not I will continue the series.

****

McGuire, Seanan. Wayward Children, Book 1: Every Heart a Doorway.  Tor/Forge-Tor.com, 2018.

This review is not endorsed by Seanan McGuire, Tor, or Forge. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Entering Amulet’s Alledia

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.Spoilers.

The first book in this series felt incomplete to me, as if the whole were a prologue and maybe a first chapter, but certainly not a full story.

I decided that I really needed to read the Amulet series after opening one of the later books (I’m not sure which) and discovering the rebellious prince of the elf court and the political allies and enemies that he has in his father’s palace. He was present in this first book but only barely, given not even a name.

This book focuses on the humans who find themselves in this alternate earth, a brother and sister and their widowed mother.  It seems too to want to be about building the world, but the world introduced in this book is so shallow compared to what comes in the second.

This first book started more darkly than I expected, with the death by a car crash of the protagonist’s father, who while still alive but trapped beneath the dashboard and steering wheel plunged in the car over a cliff.

Seeking a new start and a less financially burdensome house, the widowed mother moves her family into an old house inherited from her eccentric grandfather. In her great-grandfather’s library, Emily pricks her finger on a handprint, which causes the revelation of a pendant that she cannot leave behind and which ties itself onto her neck.  (Are you getting One Ring vibes?  Because I was.)

In the house’s basement, chasing odd noises that she expects are caused by a wild animal, Emily and Navin’s mother is swallowed whole by a tentacled creature. The creature gets Navin too, but Emily and her mother are able to rescue him.  By the time that they do, though, all three of them and the creature have entered a strange land through a portal in the basement.

The amulet speaks to Emily and leads her to the home of her great-grandfather in this land.  Its instructions include telling her to leap off a cliff while clinging to a large mushroom which is too reminiscent of her father’s death, though that parallel seems never to be addressed within the text.

But her great-grandfather is dying.

His power over the amulet is passed to Emily when she accepts the power, and by accepting the power, she maintains the life force of her great-grandfather’s magical, mechanic creations.

Together with the machines, Emily and Navin chase after the creature that swallowed their mother.

With the amulet’s help, they manage to wrest her from the creature, but Emily is almost abducted by an elven prince who has his own stone amulet and who wants her help to kill his father. The amulet wants Emily to kill the prince for his attempted abduction, but Emily resists and lets him go. Emily’s desire for mercy I think will be central to what makes her an effective heroine of the series and of this fantasy world.

Emily’s mother is poisoned by the creature, and the second book takes the heroes of this tale to the nearest city where they seek the help of a doctor.

There Emily and Navin witness the cruelty of the elves who rule the city.

They are offered help from a vulpine bounty hunter, which they initially refuse, focused on merely helping their mother.

But the elves follow them to the doctor’s, and they narrowly escape into the arms of the resistance.

Emily, Leon Redbeard the bounty hunter/resistance fighter, and the leporine Miskit seek out the prophetic gadoba forest and the fruit that will cure Emily’s mother, pursued by the elves, but Navin discovers himself the commander of the resistance army.

The end of this second book is far more satisfying. The personal and societal stakes are heightened. The magic is a little better explained though still quite nebulous. The roles of the main pro- and antagonists are better settled. The family has a new home—the three of them, everyone conscious and mending.

I think I will continue on with the series, though I read the description of the last of the HiLo books the other day, and now I want to read that series too.  Kazu Kibuishi has only one more book planned for this series, so perhaps I will wait until the series is complete then binge my way through the war for Alledia.

My advice to you, though, if you’re just coming to this series is to read past the first book, to read at least through the second before deciding whether you will or will not continue.

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet, Book 1: The Stonekeeper.  New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2008.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7.

Kibuishi, Kazu. Amulet, Book 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse.  New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2009.

Intended audience: Ages 9-12, Grades 4-7.

This review is not endorsed by Kazu Kibuishi, Graphix, or Scholastic Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: DNF But I Have Opinions

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Now for something a little different

This year there were a few books that I never finished but about which I still wanted to say a few words. I realized that when I pass them on to someone else and take them off my Goodreads lists as neither read nor to be read, I will lose any reviews that I might leave on them, so I’m taking advantage of having a blog, and leaving those thoughts here. Even if I never finished these books, I hope my thoughts will help you decide whether or not to begin them yourself.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and awards list.

Mahurin, Shelby. Serpent & Dove, Book 1. New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 14+.

I left off reading the ARC of this book at page 257 of 514, but I want to take a moment to organize my current thoughts about the novel:

I’ve struggled to enjoy this one.

First I didn’t realize going into this book that it is far more a new adult novel than a young adult or teen novel. I perhaps should have known, knowing that the protagonists are married. I have read so few new adult or even adult novels that I wasn’t prepared for the tone and the themes.

But what is most keeping me from connecting with it I think is the seemingly unequal power dynamic of the supposed romance, which thus far in the novel, does not feel like a romance, though Reid is starting to begin making an effort towards connection with Lou. Lou is choosing to live with the threat that Reid poses to her because he poses a threat to those who would harm her too, choosing to live with him though she knows that if he knew her secret he would regard her as inhuman and fit only for death. That to me is unsettling. Perhaps we are meant to think that she too poses a threat to him, but Lou hasn’t killed; she does not view even witch-hunters like him in the same inhuman way as he does witches. I don’t like to see that sort of unequal power dynamic romanticized or marketed as a romance.

I think I would have given up this book entirely after the book club discussion except that I read a summary of the plot, and I now know where the novel is headed. I like the spoilers that I have, but I don’t know if it will be worth slogging through the uncomfortable relationship to get to see them acted out, and after several months of not touching the book I have decided to give up and give my copy of this book to someone who I hope can enjoy it more than I.

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and reviews.

Wen, Abigail Hing. Loveboat, Taipei.  New York: HarperTeen-HarperCollins, 2020.

Intended audience: Ages 13+.

Spoilers between the asterisks.

There are so many parallels between this and Christine Riccio’s Again, but Better. The protagonists of both books are girls whose parents set them on tracks for medical school but who would rather pursue the arts, who travel for the first time abroad to study, who find ways to circumvent their parents’ plans for their time abroad, who struggle with liking boys who already have girlfriends, who make lists of things that they will do to reinvent themselves while abroad, who drink for the first time, who dance in a club, who kiss a boy.

But Wen’s was so much better written!

I all but forgot every character of Riccio’s except the main romantic pair, Shane and Pilot, after reading this book—and Shane I keep wanting to call Christine for her strong parallels to the author, a booktube celebrity, and Pilot I was never sure I wholly liked.

The characters of Wen’s novel are fully-fledged and interesting. Their lives are complicated. They have motivations and individual desires. They are many of them shaped by their parents’ expectations.  They each get to defend themselves, to explain themselves to Ever.  They don’t feel like props or catalysts for the protagonist Ever. Two characters are dyslexic. It feels like anyone of the characters could have held the story on their own.

Reading Wen’s novel, I was given a peek into another culture than my own. Almost every character is Taiwanese American or Chinese American or a local Taiwanese citizen. The default is not white.

Despite it being outside of my usual genre, I found compelling Ever’s fight between her passions and her duty to her family and their expectations for her. I might have continued to read if it were any closer to a genre that I generally enjoy. I may hang onto this one, and I might go back to it one day, but there’s no magic system here for me to explore, there’s not a whole lot of the type of adventure that I enjoy, and frankly the drama of teenage romances is just… not holding my attention. It didn’t in high school, and it doesn’t now.

But I want to know if Xavier can finally get the help that he needs. I want to know if he’ll be okay. (If someone who has finished this book wants to tell me the answer to that question in the comments, I’d thank you.)  I already read a spoiler * promising that Ever gets her parents’ approval of her passion for dance in the end *—though I have not found out yet which path she ultimately pursues in college.

This is a book I will recommend to those who tell me that they enjoy this genre—and definitely to anyone who read Again, but Better.

I am currently on page 240 of 414 of this ARC.

This review is not endorsed by Abigail Hing Wen, Shelby Mahurin, HarperTeen, or HarperCollins Publishers. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: How to Confront Hate and Discrimination with A Tale of Magic

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and excerpt.TaleofMagic

Spoilers.  The one spoiler that is of the book’s ending instead of its beginning is in white.  Highlight between the stars to read.

I have never read any of Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series though it has been recommended to me, so I didn’t really know what to expect when I opened this one to try to prepare for an event at the store. A Tale of Magic… is I think a prequel series to The Land of Stories. I began an ARC of the story in October and didn’t finish it until the very end of December, but I kept reading it past the event, and I finished it, which I can’t say of every book that I begin for an event. There seemed near the middle to be enough parallels between the story that I thought Colfer might be telling and the story that I am struggling to tell that I decided that I had to finish this one, even if the event was long over. (I managed just about 150 pages before the event.)

The book didn’t end up going quite the direction that I thought that it might.

In the Southern Kingdom we are introduced to Brystal Evergreen. Brystal is living beneath laws that are deeply misogynistic. Women are allowed only to pursue motherhood. They are banned from reading or even entering the library. But Brystal has brothers. She has studied law alongside them and reads novels that her younger brother sneaks to her. She manages briefly to hide a part-time job as the library’s nighttime maid, reading through the library’s offerings after close.

One book reveals to her the corruption of the government, the manipulation of laws for the purpose of consolidating the power of the government, and another reveals the existence of good magic, fairy magic instead of witchcraft.

I would actually have liked to have spent more time with Brystal’s family, the dynamics of which I found very interesting, while she slowly picks apart the prejudices that have built her world, but that wasn’t the story that Colfer wanted to tell.

Reading a passage from that second book reveals Brystal to be a fairy, and her magic lands her in a Correctional Center that is really a workhouse, from which she is rescued by a mysterious and obviously magical Madame Weatherberry, author of the book that landed her in such trouble.

The magical community is even more oppressed than women are in the Southern Kingdom. Magical peoples have been pushed to the dangerous In-Between, which is outside of the control of any of the four kingdoms and where resources are scarce for such a large population.

Madame Weatherberry begins a school for magic with the intention of training fairies to do good works for the non-magical inhabitants of the kingdoms and by so doing erase the prejudice and suppression that causes non-magical people now to hunt the magical.

That was the original thought of my own WIP’s protagonist, though recent years have made me more cynical. I wanted to see if Colfer was able to convince me that there was some good to be achieved through such a plan.

Then I thought that Colfer’s characters might begin to see as I have that “Stonewall was a riot!” and that only through revolution is revolutionary change achieved.

Neither was really the direction that the book went.

Instead Brystal * learns to leverage society’s fear of magic by leaving alive a greater threat that only she and her classmates are powerful enough to fight.   She and her classmates attack no one but neither do they perform good works across the kingdom.*

The writing was at times not subtle enough for me, perhaps a little didactic. I was not wholly on board with how easily Brystal accepts the leadership role into which she is thrust nor how adult she acts or how quickly the protagonists pass through their challenges.  The magic system was vague, but it worked, because I never felt that the magic was anything other than a stand-in for other inborn traits that lead to discrimination in our world.

Knowing some of Colfer’s biography, I felt it likely that magic was here a stand-in for an LGBTQIA+ identity, though there was no instance in this book of any romance—which itself is a welcome change.  This book touches too on the dangers of a culture of toxic masculinity with the character of Xanthous, the only masculine-presenting fairy that we meet.

I marked several poignant ideas from the novel, thoughts mostly on how to change the world and why the world is hateful and how to react to the hate in the world.

My ARC is 61 pages shorter than Goodreads advertises that the book is in the final print; I don’t know what was added or what other changes may have been made between the ARC that I read and the final print copy, though I know that mine lacked much of the artwork, most places where illustrations will appear merely held with the phrase “ATK.”

****

Colfer, Chris. A Tale of Magic…  Illus. Brandon Dorman.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2019.

This review is not endorsed by Chris Colfer, Brandon Dorman, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: An Original Fairy Tale Reimagining and a Timely War Story by Ru Xu

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.This review contains spoilers for both books. They are too many in this review to be hidden.

This first book ends on something of a cliffhanger! I was unprepared. I went out and bought the second in the series—new not used—when I could not get it from the library, something that is becoming for me quite rare for me unless I can get the book at half its list price. The first book’s cover has intrigued me for a long time with its buoyant protagonist in turn of the 20th century garb, surrounded by crows and being trailed by one bright canary.

Xu did something neat by having the cover art of the first book run neatly into the action of the book, the cover serving as—if not the first page then—the prologue to the novel.  (In the second book the cover does not serve as an opening for the story, but the title page and edition notice do.)

I was not expecting when I opened this novel to find a steampunk-y science-fiction/fantasy about warring countries and conscious war machines.

I was not displeased.

Where are my Legend of Korra fans? I was getting some serious Republic City vibes from Nautilene.

Blue masquerades as a boy to remain a part of the found family of newsboys that she has found at The Bugle, a family managed by the paper’s owner (who is also the city’s mayor) and his wife, who uses a wheelchair. Blue shares her secret only with Mrs. Nancy and an older boy who has left the Nancys’ home and is now a reporter in the capitol city—and he knows her secret because he was the one who found an orphaned girl on the street and invited her to the Nancys’ found family.

This first is a story about finding family, about truth and propaganda, about embracing truth, about morality, about personal autonomy.

Both books discuss the effect of war on civilians.

The second book gets into more of the grit of the war. I love how much of the politics of war Xu includes in this book supposedly written for children; she gives her intended audience ample credit.  This book expands on the way war changes the civilians’ mindsets on both sides as well as the cost of war and empire-building on colonies.

Blue chases after the friend that she made in the first book who turns out to be an automaton that controls a fleet of weaponized airships for the country of Goswing. She is abducted by a spy who has been working as Jack Jingle’s assistant. The spy, a girl about Blue’s age, reveals herself on the sea crossing to be a mixed-race child like Blue. Rejoining the Grimmaean air fleet, the pair are immediately shot down—by the Grimmaeans who distrust the spy, Snow, and her transgender brother, Red, who is Snow’s getaway pilot.

The three mixed-race children and Crow help to stop the war by making the adults in the room see reason—with the help of a natural disaster caused by the fighting that destroys a vital fuel source for the emerging world. But this is a book that gives me hope that a new generation can undo an old world’s prejudices, violence, and imperialism.

This second book deals with the prejudices that are ignited and are inflamed by governments to justify and sustain war and the prejudice.

We are introduced to another differently abled person in Goswish’s young, newly crowned queen who is blind but has learned to use a form of modified echolocation to help her navigate. She fears that her people will think her weak for being blind, but she proves an able and wise ruler.

In reading the second book particularly I noticed the fairy tale inspiration for the characters and their names. The Goswish take their inspiration from Mother Goose’s rhymes while the Grimmaeans take inspiration from Grimm’s. Blue herself echoes Little Boy Blue, and the queen is advised by a team of Jacks (Jack being a name that a person takes as part of the team): Jingle, Horner, Nimble, and Anory. There are Grimmaean twins named Snow-White and Rose-Red, and there’s brave little Leonhart Tailor and the kings Jacob and Wilhelm. It’s exciting to see someone doing something so different with fairy tales and clashing fairy tale characters when their worlds collide. This series is at once a fairy tale reimagining and a timely, original story of war and prejudice.

It is strongly hinted I think though never confirmed that Leo and Hector become a romantic pair.

This series feels complete to me.  I don’t think that there will be a book 3.

*****

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 1. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2017.

Xu, Ru. NewsPrints, Book 2: EndGames. New York: Graphix-Scholastic, 2019.

Intended audience: Ages 8-12, Grades 3-7.

This review is not endorsed by Ru Xu, Graphix, or Scholastic Inc. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.