Shadowhunters, Victorian Edition

Clockwork AngelA few months ago I talked about The Infernal Devices as part of my post on prequels. At the time, I focussed on its relationship to The Mortal Instruments, and so today I’m going to talk about it as a series in its own right. One of the things I love about the world of the Shadowhunters is that, while the series are all interrelated, each series can be enjoyed on its own, and TID is probably my favourite so far.

Similarly to TMI, we’re introduced to the story through the eyes of someone unfamiliar with the Shadow world. This means that you don’t need to have read TMI at all to enjoy TID, because you can learn everything you need to know about Shadowhunters and Downworlders alongside Tessa.

Victorian London provides the perfect backdrop for this story. Setting it more than a hundred years before TMI means there are few characters that cross over between the two series (though, considering the immortality of warlocks and vampires, there are a few), allowing the series to distinguish itself from its predecessor. More than that, though, Victorian London was a hub of industrialisation and scientific progress, meaning the automaton army that Tessa and her friends face is distinctively Victorian.

Clockwork PrinceThe contradictory morality of the Victorians also forms an interesting foil for the Clave’s own bigotry and biases. On the one hand, the Clave is more progressive than its mundane counterparts in allowing a woman to run an Institute, but at the same time it’s made clear that the only reason Charlotte Branwell was chosen was because the Consul hoped that, as a woman, she would be pliant and biddable, thus demonstrating the same attitude that the Victorians held. Likewise, the Clave does not take an imperialistic attitude towards other human cultures, as mundane Victorians did, but its approach towards Downworlders is eerily similar. The parallels between the real-world Victorians and the Clave throughout the ages are subtle, but this setting adds another layer of richness to the overall portrayal of the Clave’s underlying prejudices and bigotry.

As Allison said on Tuesday, one of Clare’s strengths as a writer is the relationships between her characters, and nowhere is this more true than in TID. The core romantic storyline is a love triangle, but it is so beautifully, heart-wrenchingly written that it has me in tears every time. Love triangles seem to be a bit passé lately, perhaps because of their ubiquity in YA a few years back, but I’m of the firm opinion that, while love triangles as an easy way to add drama to a relationship are never a good idea, a well-written love triangle is like romantic angst gold. And, oh, does Clare bring the angst.

Clockwork PrincessOne of the reasons I adore the love triangle in these books is that the Will and Jem are never rivals for Tessa’s love; they’re parabatai, Shadowhunters bonded together for life, and their love for each other is at least as strong as their love for Tessa. The fact that neither boy will compete with the other for Tessa’s love changes the dynamic from the typical love triangle and places the emphasis on Tessa’s agency and choice rather than any petty feuding between her romantic interests. It also, of course, means an extra helping of angst for all three characters, because Will and Jem’s unfailing support for each other makes it nearly impossible for Tessa to even realise when her actions hurt one or the other, because neither will show it out of fear of hurting his parabatai. In the end, the relationship between Will and Jem is just as interesting to read as that between Will and Tessa or between Jem and Tessa.

The Infernal Devices is an ideal read for existing Shadowhunter fans who have read The Mortal Instruments and are hungry for more. Because it’s discrete from that series, however, it is also the perfect introdution to the world of the Shadowhunters for readers who are more interested in steampunk or historical fantasy than in urban fantasy.

Nicola thinks being a Shadowhunter would be pretty cool, except the whole constant danger bit.

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Two Series Collide

We recommend a l3682ot of new books here, but I’d like to recommend an older series today that I love: The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels and The Sweet Far Thing). TGDT takes place over a single year in Victorian England and I would classify it as “historical fantasy.” The series follows its main characters, Gemma Doyle, Felicity Worthington, Pippa Cross and Ann Bradshaw down a wild rabbit hole into “the realms” of dreams and nightmares. The series is worth a read on its own, but I have an ulterior motive for recommending it today.

You may remember that I’ve recommended Libba Bray’s work in The Diviners series before. The Diviners takes place in the 1920s and focuses on a group of supernaturally gifted young people known as “Diviners.” Bray’s attention to detail is fastidious and as the mystery unfolds in Lair of Dreams, a character from the past reappears, if only for a brief moment.

The character is almost certainly, Gemma Doyle and she is overheard discussing her friend Felicity. The moment has no impact on the plot of Lair of Dreams, but it’s hard to dismiss it as insignificant.  In mentioning Gemma and Felicity, a whole new aspect of worldbuilding is suggested that may have an impact on the world of The Diviners. And that’s a good thing, because the world of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy is every bit as compelling, creepy and fantastic as Bray’s newer series.

Reading back now, a cohesive fantasy world between the two series is brilliant and makes tons of sense. A Great and Terrible Beauty (the first book in TGDT), starts in India, where Gemma’s mother dies in the first chapters of the book. Gemma is almost immediately shipped back to England to attend boarding school at her mother’s alma mater, Spence Academy. Once there, she is met with a rather chilly reception. The girls at the academy have a well established social hierarchy with years of history behind them and aren’t friendly to newcomers.  

Eventually, Gemma forces her way into the confidences of the most popular girls in school, Pippa and Felicity. Their relationship grows, based on secrets and manipulations, and they grudgingly include Gemma’s roommate Ann in their circle. Amidst this social maneuvering, Gemma is plagued by dreams and visions, which eventually lead her to a secret cave, where she finds a diary that leads all four girls into a fantastical other world, where dreams and nightmares alike can come true.

All the while, Gemma is being followed by a mysterious young Indian man, who seems to want to warn her of danger. As the story grows and Gemma’s mother’s secrets are slowly revealed, it becomes apparent that the other world the girls have stumbled upon is as dangerous as it is beautiful. Furthermore, everything that happens there is very real and the consequences will carry into the real world.

Like The Diviners, TGDT is meticulously detailed in terms of historical detail. Bray is an excellent researcher and is able to seamlessly merge historical accuracy with fantastic worldbuilding. TGDT has the same gothic otherworldliness as The Diviners. It’s not quite horror, but Bray doesn’t shy away from the terrifying aspects of her fantasy world.

I have no idea if the events of TGDT will have any bearing on The Diviners series. It would be interesting to see the characters from TGDT as adults, but merging the two series might be a bit complicated for Bray’s already complex ensemble narrative.  Even if that brief moment in Lair of Dreams is only a nod to the fact that the two series exist in the same worldbuilding framework, I think it’s worth it to read TGDT while you wait for the next installment of The Diviners.

Anyone who enjoys historical fantasy, with a gothic twist will enjoy The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and The Diviners alike. If you’ve never read either series, I think you’re in for a treat. If I may make a suggestion, don’t read before bed, unless you want to find Bray’s world in your nightmares.  

Allison Carr Waechter is ready for spring. Aren’t you?

 


Winter 2016 YA Historical Fantasy: The Dark Days Club, by Alison Goodman

Happy 2016, everyone! I hope you’re as thrilled as I am that many eagerly awaited winter releases are coming out soon: including Alison Goodman’s The Dark Days Club (Lady Helen #1), on the shelves January 26th.

15993203If you’ve read Eon (2008) and Eona (2011), then you know how hard it’s been to wait FIVE YEARS for her next book! (If you haven’t read the duology, here’s my brief recommendation.) The Dark Days Club, the first book in her new historical fantasy series, set in Regency London and starring aristocratic Lady Helen as a reluctant demon-hunter, is worth the long wait. Especially for fans of Cassandra Clare, Gail Carriger, Libba Bray, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When we are first introduced to 18-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall, she is unaware of her destiny: she is one of two hundred humans with supernatural powers, called Reclaimers, who fight demonic humanoid creatures, called Deceivers.

Helen’s greatest fears? That she will fail to make a favorable impression at her first audience with Queen Charlotte and ruin her chances of finding a suitable noble husband (ideally, the Duke of Selburn). That the queen will be concerned Helen is like her deceased mother, Lady Catherine, accused of impropriety and treason. Will she notice that Helen has her mother’s “wild streak”–restless energy, curiosity, intelligence, and a passion for impropriety?

Helen hopes the queen will be too immersed in her own problems–her husband, “mad” King George III, and their profligate son, “Prinny”–to associate mother with daughter. But, just in case, her uncle demands that Helen tell the queen that her mother’s drowning at sea “was the best outcome for all concerned,” blaming Lady Catherine’s “reckless pursuit of intrigue and excitement” for her death. Helen not only refuses to denounce her mother, she demonstrates her love by hiding a miniature of Lady Catherine in her fan when she meets Queen Charlotte.

The mystery surrounding Lady Catherine gains momentum at Helen’s royal presentation when the disreputable Lord Carlston (whom she later discovers is a demon-hunter) is able to steal the hidden miniature and the queen tells her, “Do not believe everything they say about your mother.” What does the queen mean? What secrets do she and Lord Carlston know about Lady Catherine?

Helen’s pursuit of the truth about her mother leads her to discover she has supernatural abilities that make her destined for The Dark Days Club, a secret group of Reclaimers. But does she want to battle demons? Or would she rather be a proper nobleman’s wife? Does she have a choice? Helen’s struggle to choose her own fate introduces a love triangle (a huge turnoff for many readers, including myself). Yet I don’t mind that Helen is torn between two men–Lord Carlston and the Duke of Selburn–because her romantic struggle emphasizes the importance of freedom and choice for women.

In case you missed it:  Last fall, I posted TBR lists of my most-anticipated Winter 2016 releases by debut and already published authors. I recommended time-traveling adventures (Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger, Heidi Heilig’s The Girl from Everywhere, Janet B. Taylor’s Into the Dim, and Nicole Castroman’s Blackhearts), Kathy MacMillan’s Sword and Verse, and Sarah Ahier’s Assassin’s Heart.

Coming soon: Recommendations for Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands (March), Evelyn Skye’s The Crown’s Game (May), and Julie Eshbaugh’s Ivory and Bone (June)plus many more.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in (mostly) young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss and the publisher for providing her with a digital review copy of The Dark Days Club for review purposes. Please note that any quotes are based on an uncorrected text and may have changed upon publication.


The Vanishing Throne, by Elizabeth May

The UK cover, available now

The UK cover, available now

In The Falconer Elizabeth May took my city and turned it upside-down. In The Vanishing Throne she destroys it.

After Aileana’s failure to re-imprison the faeries under Arthur’s Seat, they tear across the world, destroying Edinburgh, Glasgow and beyond. When Aileana escapes Lonnrach’s captivity, she returns to the barren remains of a once-great city, but the threat is far from over.

The Vanishing Throne is missing some of my favourite aspects of The Falconer, like the interplay between Aileana’s public life as a débutante and her secret life as a faery slayer. Scots know faeries aren’t just a story now, and they have bigger concerns than balls and afternoon tea. There’s less, too, of the steampunk aspects, because human society has been so destroyed by the faeries that their inventions are nowhere to be found. The result is that in many ways the visceral feel of the book is different from that of The Falconer, but it’s so stunningly crafted that the transition from Victorian steampunk to historical fantasy is seamless.

Ultimately, however, it wasn’t the Victorian society or steampunk elements that made me fall in love with The Falconer, but the characters and treatment of faery lore, and on both those counts The Vanishing Throne more than delivers. As we as readers must adapt to the new, more fae world, so too must characters like Catherine, who didn’t even know the fae existed prior to their rampage. In a way, Catherine comes into her own in this book, no longer constricted by the confines placed on a woman in Victorian high society. Catherine’s compassion and resourcefulness were apparent in The Falconer, but they’re pushed to their limits in The Vanishing Throne, revealing new depths to her character. Similarly, we learn more about Kiaran, but in this case, it’s his past. The Falconer laid hints about his backstory, and the payoff in The Vanishing Throne is well worth the wait. We not only learn why Kiaran hunts faeries, by why Derek hates him so much and even a bit about his family history.

Vanishing Throne_final front cover.pdf

The US cover, out in June 2016

In The Vanishing Throne we meet Aithinne, Kiaran’s sister who has been imprisoned under Holyrood Park for millennia. And I adore her. She’s determined and tough, with a brilliant (if occasionally unintentional) sense of humour. She is also a deliciously morally complex character; she looks out for Aileana but is still irrevocably fae. The fae of the Falconer world all share a degree of bloodlust, drawing on the faeries of Scottish myth; even Derek, who gets drunk off of honey and binge-mends Aileana’s dresses, has a sociopathic side, offering to mutilate Gavin after he upsets Aileana. Aithinne, and her history with Kiaran, brings another layer of nuance to the fae, both showing Aileana that they are not wholly heartless monsters while at the same time reinforcing that they are not, and will never be, human, with everything that entails.

The Vanishing Throne is the perfect sequel to The Falconer. Delving deeper into faery lore, it pulls the reader – and its characters – further into this magical, creepy world of faeries and Falconers. If you loved The Falconer, raged at the cliffhanger ending, then you won’t be disappointed.

Nicola lives and reads in Edinburgh, which is, thankfully, faery-free – or so she hopes. You can find her on Twitter.


September Favorites: This Monstrous Thing, The Weight of Feathers, and Everything, Everything

Yay! It’s time to recommend fall books! Here are a few of my favorite September releases in YA:

22811807Mackenzi Lee’s This Monstrous Thing is an alternative historical fantasy set in 1818, Geneva, that brilliantly reimagines Frankenstein with a steampunk twist. Alasdair Finch is a Shadow Boy, an illegal mechanic who supplies humans with clockwork parts. Two years ago, he secretly brought his brother back from the dead, but Oliver is more monster than man.

To make matters worse, Frankenstein has just been published anonymously and many people believe it is about a real-life doctor and his monster. As prejudice towards the Shadow Boys and clockwork people grows, Alasdair suspects that Frankenstein is about himself. Who exposed his secret? Oliver, Dr. Geisler, or the girl who helped revive Oliver but broke Alasdair’s heart…Mary Shelley?

20734002I can see why Anna-Marie McLemore’s The Weight of Feathers is being called “Night Circus meets Romeo and Juliet,” but don’t let such comparisons fool you into thinking it’s a copycat. This star-crossed romance between the daughter and son of two rival families of traveling performers (white-scaled “mermaids” vs. black-feathered tree-walkers) is inventive, magical, poetic, and multicultural (interweaving Spanish and French phrases).

When Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau meet, they don’t know they are enemies (since her white scales and his black feathers are hidden). She saves him from being beaten by her cousins; he rescues her from a chemical disaster. After Lace realizes she’s been touched by a Corbeau, whose “black magic” cursed her (accidentally binding her to him), her family casts her out. Hoping for a cure to the curse, she works for the Corbeaus (who don’t know her true identity). As she and Cluck become friends, then lovers, they uncover family secrets that challenge everything they’ve been led to believe. Will their love withstand all that’s against them? I highly recommend The Weight of Feathers for fans of The Accident SeasonBone Gap, The Walls Around Us, and The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly.

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I effortlessly fell in love with Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything for many of the same reasons that I adore All the Bright Places, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Because You’ll Never Meet Me, and Eleanor & Park.

Told through diary entries, instant messages, emails, vignettes, charts, illustrations, and more, Yoon’s debut is an imaginative, heartwarming love story about a girl and a boy whose relationship is doomed from the beginning, but that doesn’t stop them from being romantic, funny, hopeful, and adventurous. Maddie, a biracial seventeen-year-old, is allergic to the outside world and never leaves her house. The only people she’s allowed to see are her mom and her nurse. But then, Olly moves in next door…and they might just risk everything to be together.

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in mostly young adult fiction at Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, the publishers, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with digital review copies of these books for review purposes only, and her opinions are her own. Please chat with her on Twitter about books! What are you looking forward to reading this fall? What are your favorite September releases?