Winter 2016 YA: Glass Sword, by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen was one of my favorite books of 2015, so while I was very excited to finally get my hands on its sequel, Glass Sword, I was afraid that it would not live up to the awesomeness of its predecessor. Fortunately, what I love most about Red Queen–its rich world-building, dynamic characters, high-stakes adventure and romance, and plot twists and turns that never lose their punch (even after multiple reads)–continues in Glass Sword, but with an even more elaborate and expansive setting, cast of characters, and storyline.

23174274I don’t want to risk spoiling the plot of Red Queen and Glass Sword in case you haven’t read them yet; rather, I want to focus on the number one lesson that the protagonist, Mare Barrow, learned in Red Queen–anyone can betray anyone–and the effect this devastating truth has on her character and purpose.

After discovering she’s not the only gifted Red (newblood), Mare enters a deadly race against her enemies to find and recruit an army of newbloods who will join the Red rebels (the Scarlet Guard) in their fight against their evil Silver oppressors. This means Mare’s a hero, right?

Yes, and no. Motivated by revenge, and consumed with heartbreak, alienation and a deep-rooted hatred for Silvers in general, how will Mare not become as cruel and dangerous as her enemies? How will betrayal and treachery not turn her into the kind of monster she is fighting against?

What I love most about Aveyard’s series is that it explores the liminal space between heroism and villainy in a way that reminds me of another favorite series of mine: Marie Lu’s The Young Elites. A few months ago I wrote about Adelina Amouteru, the gifted hero turned villain, who becomes increasingly treacherous in The Rose Society. In that post, I commended Adelina’s successful evolution into a villain. Rather than trying to overcome her negative traits (fear, anger, stubbornness, manipulation, hatred, vengeance, and narcissism), Adelina recognizes that they make her a more formidable opponent. Motivated by revenge and destruction, not compassion, love and heroism, Adelina would rather be everyone’s adversary than risk being anyone’s victim.

Similarly, Mare must demonstrate her negative traits in order to become a more powerful opponent. She cannot lead a revolt and defeat her enemies with kindness and mercy. She will not be a victim. Not again. While Mare isn’t as villainous as Adelina in her quest for revenge–she still feels love, compassion, loyalty, and guilt–Mare is determined to kill her enemies. But at what cost?

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.


A Villain’s Journey: Marie Lu’s Adelina Amouteru

2082111123846013This month I’m recommending books that will put you in the Halloween spirit, so let’s celebrate the release of Marie Lu’s The Rose Society (The Young Elites #2) by spotlighting its villainous protagonist: Adelina Amouteru.

We’ll start with this series’ fascinating backstory. Did you know The Young Elites began as a hero’s journey? Lu’s acknowledgements note that The Young Elites was initially about a teen hero who attempts to master his powers and defeat the villain, but her first draft failed. Adelina was a minor character until Lu’s agent, Kristin Nelson, suggested she should be the main character. Realizing that Adelina was “a fun bad girl” whom she wanted to keep around during the book’s rewrite, Lu decided to tell a villain’s story.

And what an amazing villain’s story it is! Especially The Rose Society, which brings Adelina’s cruelty to a whole new level. For those of you who don’t know, this series is set in a fantasy world in which some of the malfettos (“marked” survivors of a deadly blood fever) have special powers and are called The Young Elites. As a malfetto, Adelina is considered bad luck, unwanted, and a monster. She is vulnerable and victimized until she discovers she’s an Elite, gifted with powers of illusion that feed off of her fear and fury.

I don’t want to discuss the series’ plot any further; rather I want to praise Adelina’s successful evolution into a villain. She doesn’t try to overcome her negative traits (fear, anger, stubbornness, manipulation, hatred, vengeance, narcissism), since they make her a more formidable opponent (whether she can control her powers or not). Motivated by revenge and destruction, not compassion, love and heroism, she’d rather be everyone’s adversary than risk being anyone’s victim.

Once upon a time, a girl had a father, a prince, a society of friends. Then they betrayed her, and she destroyed them all. 

Alyssa recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult). She thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Tumblr and Twitter.


Marie Lu’s Legend Trilogy

This post originally appeared at The Prattle of Hastings on 17 February 2015.

Last week I read Marie Lu’s Legend trilogy, and I was very impressed. It’s the best dystopia I’ve come across in a long time. The world is richly-imagined, the characters are three-dimensional, the plot twists and turns, it’s just amazing.

Legend_Marie_Lu_Book_coverThe story follows two teenagers in the Republic of America, a nation formed from the western parts of the USA after rising seawater took over much of the country’s eastern seaboard. The remaining eastern states formed the Colonies of America, and the two nations have been at war for as long as the teenage protagonists can recall. The Republic of America has all the hallmarks of your average dystopia: a powerful, unquestioning military; obfuscated history; and a brainwashed but increasingly restless populace. The two main characters, Day and June, come from opposite ends of society. Day has been living on the streets since the age of ten, while June is slated for an impressive career in the military.

There are so, so many things I loved about this series. For a start, it’s just about the only book I’ve read that successfully juggles more than one first-person POV. Day and June alternate the chapter narration, but Lu gives them distinct voices so, even without the different fonts in the published books, it’s clear who is narrating at any given time. Day is frequently sarcastic and jaded, while June is analytical, given to making long parenthetical asides providing precise description about her surroundings and companions. This dual narration allows for some beautiful dramatic irony, ratcheting up the tension when June believes Day has committed a crime, but does not know that Day is the boy she is falling in love with, and likewise Day is falling for June without realising she is a military spy. It’s very well-done indeed.

Prodigy_Marie_Lu_BookAdditionally, the dual narration allows Lu to show readers the utter poverty and generally awful treatment of many residents of the Republic of America while also allowing the reader to accompany a character on her journey from buying into the Republic’s lies to thinking for herself. One of the most harrowing moments in the series comes when Day tells June that, at the age of ten, Republic doctors performed experiments upon him before leaving him to die. June is shocked, but it’s not Day’s description that is so horrifying to the audience. It’s the fact that June thought children like Day, taken from their families for failing to pass standardised tests, were sent to labour camps. And June did not have a problem with this. Let’s back up a minute. JUNE WAS OKAY WITH TEN-YEAR-OLDS BEING SENT TO LABOUR CAMPS. This is what’s so great about having two narrators from different ends of Republic society; Lu shows us first-hand how Day has suffered, but also how June has been so protected from the suffering and brainwashed into accepting what the Republic tells her is acceptable.

June’s acceptance of things like labour camps is relatively subtle, but that is another area where this book succeeds. We’re shown the world through the protagonists’ biased viewpoints, and they do not explain or dwell on things that are obvious to them. An example of this is when June is performing research for her work in the military. She casually mentions in the narrative that she typed in her password to access the Internet after gaining clearance. The Internet. She needs clearance to access the Internet. In just a throwaway comment Lu shows how exceedingly controlling the Republic is. It’s beautiful.

champion.inddLu has clearly thought deeply about the world in which the story is set. The Republic, while recognisable as a military dystopia, has a well-thought-out history and and culture. This was, however, my least-favourite aspect of the book. I tend to have a love-hate relationship with dystopias; I love them for how they reflect aspects of our own society back at us, but hate them as I have a low threshold for violence. As a result, my favourite dystopias are those like The Hunger Games that take a particular aspect of modern culture and twist it. Lu does do this in the series, but not with the Republic. The Colonies are ruled by corporations, an act of desperation on the part of a populace who could not trust their government to keep them alive. Only later would they realise the cost of having to pay a corporation to cover things like law enforcement. Antarctica (now a temperate nation, thank you global warming) functions something like a computer game, with individuals achieving experience points for doing good deeds and losing them for committing crimes, whether or not they’re witnessed doing so. While this keeps crime down, June rightfully questions if, for instance, disagreeing with the government would affect ones XP level. I would have liked to have seen more of Colonies and Antarctican society as I find both concepts more interesting than the military rule of the Republic.

All in all, I really enjoyed this series. Definitely a 5-star read for me. Lu takes everything that makes dystopic literature so great and rolls it all into one perfect package.

Nicola is an English Lit graduate living in Edinburgh, Scotland. She is passionate about books by and about women, neither of which she got much of during her degree. You can follow her on her blog, Twitter and Tumblr.


YA Horror: Slasher Girls & Monster Boys

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Slasher Girls & Monster Boys is an anthology of fourteen horror stories by many of my favorite YA authors. Seriously. Look at this list of contributors and try not to drool!

We have Nova Ren Suma (The Walls Around Us), Carrie Ryan (Daughter of Deep Silence), Cat Winters (The Uninvited) Leigh Bardugo (Six of Crows), Megan Shepherd (The Cage), Danielle Paige (Dorothy Must Die), April Genevieve Tucholke (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea), Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin), Jay Kristoff (Illuminae), Stefan Bachmann (A Drop of Night), Marie Lu (The Young Elites), McCormick Templeman (The Little Woods), A.G. Howard (Splintered), and Kendare Blake (Anna Dressed in Blood). I recommend reading every creepy story in this anthology, but I’m focusing here on the eleven written by women.

The first story, Suma’s “The Birds of Azalea Street,” opens with birds flocking at a murder scene. The parents in the neighborhood don’t understand why Leonard (“a perfectly nice man, an upstanding member of our community”) is dead, while their daughters (“who sense danger when everyone’s telling us it’s fine”) know he’s a creep. Ryan’s “In the Forest Dark and Deep” draws from Alice in Wonderland: Cassidy’s fun tea party in the woods becomes a series of scary encounters with the March Hare.

Winter’s “Emmeline” is about a dead girl in Northern France, 1918, who lures soldiers to join her in what’s left of her bombed out bedroom. A teen celebrity’s rehab is much more than her mother paid for in Bardugo’s “Verse Chorus Verse.”  In Shepherd’s “Hide-and-Seek,” Annie plays a game with Crow Cullom, death’s harbinger, after her stepdad nearly kills her. A dreams-come-true romance between “Marnie Monster” and the perfect boy becomes sinister in Paige’s “The Dark, Scary Parts and All.”

In Tucholke’s “The Flicker, the Finger, the Beat, the Sigh, “ a couple’s perfect future is jeopardized when a joyride turns nightmarish on a rainy night.  Lu’s “The Girl Without a Face” is about a Harvard boy with a dark past who’s haunted by a vengeful ghost. A group of boys from a plague-stricken community seek salvation in a shaman girl they’ve captured in Templeman’s “A Girl Who Dreamed of Snow.” In Howard’s “Stitches,” a girl dismembers her “sinful” father, selling his “offensive” body parts to “The Collector” and replacing them with a “good person’s” cadaver pieces. In the final story, Blake’s “On the I-5,” a murdered girl seeks revenge.

This anthology pays homage to classic horror films and literature, urban legends, fairy tales, and myths; yet these stories are original and disturbing in their own right. As the book’s website says, “Each author draws from a mix of literature, film, television, or even music to create something new and fresh and unsettling….There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror, to the supernatural, to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for anyone looking for an absolute thrill.”

Alyssa Raymond is a YA blogger for Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, the publisher, and the Boulder Book Store for providing her with a digital review copy of this book for review purposes only, and her opinions are her own. Please follow Spellbinding BooksonTwitter and Tumblr.