February Favorites: YA Adventure (Part 2)

17901125Last week, when I put down Samantha Shannon’s The Mime Order I looked at the cat and said, “Well that was a doozy of an ending.” She blinked twice in response, which I can only interpret as “Agreed.” As I mentioned last week, I like to read adventure stories with a fantasy twist and Shannon’s The Bone Season books are shaping up to be just such a series.

Here’s the rundown:

The books fall under the genre of what I think of as an alternate-timeline urban fantasy (it’s dystopian too, but not in a Hunger Games/Divergent/Maze Runner way at all). It’s 2059 and the world has lived with a fierce paranoia of “unnaturalness” since 1859, when it’s widely believed clairvoyance took on a sinister quality that threatens the safety of amaurotics (non-clairvoyant folks). This has lead to what you’d expect: round-ups and subsequent imprisonment of “voyants” and the criminalization of clairvoyant activity, all governed by controlling political entity called Scion. Of course, there’s something even worse than Scion lurking in the shadows, but I’ll leave it to you to find out more about the Rephaim.

Shannon’s SciLo (Scion London) is culturally rich, developed primarily through her beautiful integration of slang used in the voyant criminal underworld. As Shannon notes in the glossary of The Bone Season this slang is loosely based on terms from the nineteenth century, which complement one of the primary aesthetic qualities of SciLo, which is that it’s gotten a little stuck in the Victorian era, fashion wise. While ladies aren’t wearing corsets and bustles, there are subtle hints that in Shannon’s vision of the future SciLo residents have developed modern versions of Victorian garb. The books take on a palpable dreary, gritty vibe that I love.

The Bone Season series follows Paige Mahoney, a “voyant” in SciLo (Scion London). Paige is near the top of the clairvoyant hierarchy, both in talent and in the criminal syndicate that both exploits and protects voyants. She’s a “mollisher” for the enigmatic Jaxon Hall, mime-lord and leader of the Seven Seals — so basically, she’s the enforcer for a crime-boss in a larger organization.

Here’s how the books match up to my qualifications for this mini-series of posts:

  1. Adventure is the primary focus: There’s a little romance in The Bone Season and it is continued in The Mime Order, but it’s complicated and both parties acknowledge this probably can’t work long-term. While their attraction is a cause for friction, it’s not the primary motivator of the plot. Mostly, the focus is on the deeper mystery of how Scion and the Rephaim work and what their real motivations are. Paige struggles with learning to develop her skill as a voyant and coming to terms with the ways in which being a leader is extremely difficult.
  2. We’ve already covered that this is a super-cool urban fantasy, but I want to reiterate here that without Shannon’s development of the complexity of mime-crime, the syndicate and the aesthetic of SciLo, these books wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. It’s a real talent to develop something so complex without completely losing your readers.
  3. This is YA, but since Paige is 19 and living in an extremely adult world, I think it has appeal for a wide range of ages.

When I was looking through reviews of The Bone Season, I saw some people saying that Shannon is the “next JK Rowling” and that her world building is similar t17199504o that of Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I cannot emphasize to you enough that this is not true. Shannon’s talent may very well live up to Rowling’s, but other than the facts that these novels take place in the UK, there’s some “magic” involved (though I would argue that clairvoyance and magic are totally different animals), and there will be seven books… there’s no resemblance to Harry Potter whatsoever.

The only drawback I found was the beginning of The Bone Season, which felt a little forced at first, but evens out completely after a few chapters and Shannon’s writing just keeps getting better in The Mime Order. There’s some loose ends to a very complex, very big mystery in The Bone Season that are barely touched on in The Mime Order, and in my opinion, this is a good thing. Shannon is setting the stage for something much bigger that can easily span seven books and though I hate to wait, I’m eagerly anticipating the next five books.

While Paige is a mostly likable protagonist and her character fleshes out more over time, I think the stellar world building and the deeper mystery of Scion and the voyant syndicate are what really draw me in. I recommend picking up both books and reading them back-to-back so you don’t lose the nuances of Shannon’s narrative. Luckily for us, they’re the kinds of books that are fun to read twice, so the re-reads over the next few years will be enjoyable. Sorry, between this and The Throne of Glass series, I’ve really got you into a mess. It’s ok, we’ll start a support group.

Allison Carr Waechter is a real life cartomancer, though she’s loath to do readings for amaurotics. Right now she’s busy scribbling away at her novel and thinking about whether or not another cup of tea will keep her up tonight. If you’re interested in rants about tea, cats and books, you can engage her on twitter or check in at her website.


February Favorites: YA Adventure

I know there’s a lot of hemming and hawing over whether or not grown ups should read YA or if it’s good for them. To that I say, “Eh.” Frankly, I find the conversation a little boring. People should mind their own business more. That being said, instead of harkening back to my childhood for my next two February Faves posts, I want to talk about some awesome YA I’ve read recently.

I love adventure stories with lady-leads and I’m a sucker for magic. I’ve found that the YA genre seems to house a ton of great stories like this and they don’t all have a sappy love triangle at their core (though I’m a sucker for all manner of love triangle — I like a lot of stuff, ok?). These are my picks for recent YA series that focus on adventure, rather than a love story.

Here were my qualifiers for what made it in and what you’ll find in common in each series:

  1. Adventure is the primary focus. There might be romance involved, but that romance isn’t a crucial aspect for the adventure storyline, it’s just something that happens along the way. So for instance, I adore the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books by Laini Taylor and they are all sorts of adventurous, but a love story is central to the adventure, so they don’t qualify. Same goes for Leigh Bardugo’s excellent Grisha series.
  2. The lead character is a lady and she’s either got magical powers or lives in a world where they exist and are central to the story.
  3. It’s YA. It’s not that I don’t think there are books that fit into these qualifications in adult lit, it’s that I think they’re harder to find.

Here’s my first pick for my February Favorites: YA Adventure:

Throne of GlassThrone of Glass, by Sarah J Maas. When I picked up the eponymous first book in this series, I liked it enough to read the next book, Crown of Midnight, which is where I think Maas’ characterization and story-building begin to meet up with her world-building. In the Throne of Glass series, much of the world has been stripped of magic, the Fae have retreated and an objectively evil dictator is busy enslaving as much of the world as possible. Maas’ main character, is the world’s best assassin, and a drop-dead gorgeous one at that. Throne of Glass sets the stage for the series, but I’ll admit, I didn’t care for Celaena Sardothien all the much until Crown of Midnight.

Here’s why: Celaena is a character that genuinely grows as a person, which means she’s kind of a jerk in the first book. If you get put off by her vanity and arrogance in Throne of Glass you’ll miss all the good stuff. In Throne of Glass and even somewhat into Crown of Midnight, she’s spoiled, arrogant, self-centered, a coward and hiding some nasty secrets. There are times whecrown of midnightn she’s genuinely unlikeable. Then at the end of Crown of Midnight and in Heir of Fire, she begins to grow and it’s honestly a really gratifying character arc because it’s so hard-won.

Plus, the supporting characters are completely amazing. Even if you never like Celaena, I promise you’re going to love Nehemia, Celaena’s best friend and Prince Dorian (I’m a little iffy on Chaol, so I’m not making you any promises). Heir of Fire introduces two of my favorite fantasy characters of all time: Manon Blackbeak, a truly terrifying witch and Rowan Whitethorn a Fae soldier-prince. One of the best things about Maas’ work is that she focuses so much on relationships. Celaena’s friendships and familial ties are just as important to the story as her romances.

The adHeir of Fireventure itself is great stuff, full of twists and turns as Celaena unwinds the secrets of her childhood and figures out how she fits into the world. There’s never any doubt that Celaena is a kick-ass lady, but whether or not she can be brave enough to face the past is another thing altogether. Maas makes it clear that until she faces up to all she’s done as Adarlan’s Assassin and the depths of her early years that she can’t be the hero Erliea needs, so it’s a race against time.

My advice is to pick up Throne of Glass and Crown of Midnight at the same time and read them like they’re one book. There’s a series of shorts called Assassin’s Blade, which flesh out just how Celaena became Adarlan’s Assassin and I think I’d recommend reading that right after Crown of Midnight.  Then you can move on to Heir of Fire and I’ll let you sit by me and weep when you realize there are three more books coming in this series and you’re gonna have to wait.

Next Monday, I’ll talk about Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, another series with a bad-girl lead.

If you like books about assassins, you might also like Robin LaFevers His Fair Assassin series and Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm. I give both series super-high marks.

Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, a tea drinker and a secret Blackbeak witch. Rowan Whitethorn is her book-boyfriend and she’ll totally punch you if you try to get in the way of their love. If you want to bring Allison back to reality, hit her up on Twitter or check in on her website.  

 


February Favorites: Madeleine L’Engle

“I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be.”

18131Hey All! Its February favorites time and I’m taking the opportunity to recommend one of my favorite YA books of all time: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. L’Engle first published this book in 1962 as the first of a four-book series. It became a Newbury Medal book in 1963. While I encourage you to enjoy all four books in her series, Wrinkle is absolutely my favorite and can be read as a standalone book.

I must have been about 7 or 8 years old the first time I read A Wrinkle in Time, and I’ve re-read it more than any other book I’ve ever owned. While I would say that this book is very firmly planted in the YA genre, don’t let that frighten you away from reading it as an adult. Even as an adult reader, I still feel the magic each time I experience the story. This was the first book I remember reading that made me cry – really cry – and also the first book that I couldn’t put down until it was finished.

On the surface, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of high school girl Meg, who is transported through space and time on a quest to fight evil and save her kidnapped father who is being held hostage on another planet. While that sounds like a pretty straightforward story line, there isn’t any more that I can tell you about it without giving away spoilers.  You just have to trust me that there are plenty of twists and turns along the way that will keep you reading. What I can say is that L’Engle draws on a little bit of science, a little bit of parable storytelling, and a lot of magic to create the worlds that Meg, her little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe visit. While the story begins as sounding a little complex (I had no idea what a tesseract was when I first read this at 8 years old) it will quickly transform into a story that is about believing in and loving yourself, accepting yourself even with all of your faults, and seeing the beauty that each person possesses, both inside and out. All of this is told from the perspective of teenager Meg, who is a beautifully flawed character. She is smart, stubborn, lovable and refuses to acknowledge her good traits. While she experiences a crazy adventure away from home, she also learns more about who she is – I’m not sure I’d go as far to call it a coming of age story, but it has elements of her experiencing her own self realization.

If you’re looking for a story that will transport you back to the magic of your adolescence, I suggest reading A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle’s books are a great option for people that enjoy C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling.

Melissa Webb calls Denver home. She is a knitter, cat-mom and occasional marathoner. She drinks way too much coffee, but she can quit any time she wants. You can say hi to her on Twitter or check out her latest crafty ideas on her website.


February Favorites: Tamora Pierce

It’s February and though I have about a million more recent books I still want to recommend, it seemed fitting to write about some of the books and series that made me love reading to begin with. So this month, while some of our other recommenders are going to continue on with business as usual, I’ll be recommending some of my favorite books/series of all time. These are the books with worn spines and bent pages on my shelves. They made it through vacations, college dorms and bathtub reading. They’re the Velveteen Rabbits of my literary life.

AlannaI want to start with the work of Tamora Pierce. If you’re not familiar with Pierce, let me provide a quick rundown for you: Pierce has been actively writing for my entire life. Her novels are set in lands where magic is possible and girls are powerful creatures. I will be up front and say that while I’ve read a good deal of her work, I’m not yet familiar with her Circle of Magic series, but I’ve read most of the Tortall books and even as an adult I’m in love.

Pierce writes great, fully realized characters. I started with the Alanna books (more formally known as the Song of the Lioness quartet) and while I’ve gone on to love many of the other protagonists Pierce has written, Alanna will always remain my favorite. The world Tortall exists in is full of magic and supernatural creatures. The gods aren’t distant religious figures, but meddlers, and boy do they meddle. Those with “the Gift” are often the targets of their meddling, though being powerful, rather than having magical powers seems to catch their eye more than anything.

One of the things I love most about Pierce’s lady characters is that they’re struggling to break gender boundaries. Alanna and Kel are dealing with being the first female knights in centuries, Daine struggles to understand how her magic works, Aly becomes a spy. And without spoiling things for you, I want you to know that Pierce creates female characters that succeed without having to give up their power.

One of the things that sometimes bothers me about contemporary YA fiction is that too many female protagonists seem required to give up their power in order to get along or love someone. I’ve read so many great series (that I still adore) that end with the protagonist’s supernatural power draining away so she can lead a “normal” life. That in itself isn’t so bad and when it’s done right it can be a powerful message: there’s nothing wrong with being normal. You can be exceptional without superpowers. Pierce has plenty of that too, Kel, the main character of the Protector of the Small quartet is one such character.

Where Pierce’s work deviates from some of the great YA fantasy authors that followed her, is that all of Pierce’s characters struggle with the way in which they’re powerful and find a way to work it into their “normal” lives. Some find romance, some don’t. The ones who do end up with the people who can accept the power they wield. Pierce shows us over and over that relationships in which a partner can’t accept the way a woman is powerful are toxic. I’ve got to be honest, I really love that.

Too often, I think we tell young girls to hide their power (yeah, Flawless is playing in my head right now) and that’s not okay in my book. Girls can be powerful and they should find relationships, both platonic and romantic where that’s valued. I think that’s what attracted me to Pierce (and Alanna) as a kid. Pierce told the truth: if you have power, that’s going to threaten some people and they won’t be able to handle it. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad and it doesn’t make you bad, but it’s the wrong kind of “challenging” to allow a relationship to survive. In other words, Pierce shows us that if someone can’t accept your power, no matter how much they love you or you love them, it’s not a good relationship to continue.

Aside from all that, they’re great adventure stories and I love a good fantasy adventure. There’s evil sorcerors to defeat, political intrigue to navigate and wars to win. Pierce’s characters are in the thick of all of it. Oh and sword fighting, there’s lots of that too.

So if you haven’t read any of Pierce’s work yet, get at it. Start with Alanna and keep going. Pierce’s work is a great option for people who enjoy Kristin Cashore’s work or that of Sara J Maas.

Allison Carr Waechter is a writer, a teacher, a cat herder, a dogmom and tea drinker. She’s fretting over someone special’s trip into an enchanted forest this week and managing the expectations of mentally ill vampires. You can visit her on twitter or at her website if you want to see how that’s going.