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.


Love Thy Enemy? The Wrath and the Dawn, by Renee Ahdieh (Spring YA)

If you’ve read my other book recommendations, you probably know that I really enjoy YA fantasy, including folktale re-imaginings. Some examples: Monstrous, The Lunar ChroniclesRed Queen, An Ember in the Ashes, A Court of Thorns and Roses, and The Orphan Queen.

Today’s post is no exception. Renee Ahdieh‘s The Wrath and the Dawn (on the shelves 5/12) has all the elements of a great fantasy: magic, a tyrannical villain, a strong, yet conflicted, heroine, a thrilling and suspenseful plot, amazing world-building, power struggles, moral dilemmas, and complicated romance.

18798983It is also inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. Every evening eighteen-year-old Khalid, the ruler of Khorasan, takes a new bride whom he executes at dawn. After he kills her best friend, sixteen-year-old Shahrzad (Shazi) leaves the man she loves and volunteers to marry Khalid. She knows she probably won’t live past the first night, but she wants to stay alive long enough to take revenge. Fortunately, Shazi is clever, witty, and able to captivate Khalid with her storytelling–which saves her life.

But her mission becomes more complicated than staying alive. As days turn into weeks and Shazi gets to know Khalid better, she has trouble seeing him as a monster. She wonders why he’s been killing his wives at dawn. As she struggles to understand him, her beliefs and loyalties are tested, and she unwillingly falls for him. But what about her beloved boyfriend Tariq? And if she loves Khalid, can she still kill him?

Let’s talk about Shazi’s complicated romance. It’s difficult these days to write about star-crossed lovers in a fresh and compelling way. Many readers detest a love triangle and having “a heroine fall in love with her enemy” is cliched too. But like the other YA fantasy books I’ve recommended, The Wrath and the Dawn generally avoids  being stereotypical because Shazi is a tough heroine. Like Sarah J. Maas’s Celaena or Feyre, and Jodi Meadow’s Wil, she’s strong-willed, confident, bold, snarky, knows how to fight, and is willing to sacrifice her own life for what she believes is a greater good. I think it’s safe to say that if “love triangles” or “star-crossed lovers” haven’t bothered you in other popular YA fantasy, you’ll really enjoy this book!

Alyssa Raymond is a YA blogger for Coven Book Club and its sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss and the publisher for providing her with an ARC of this book for review purposes; her opinions are her own. Please follow Spellbinding Books on Twitter and Tumblr. Thanks!

Winter 2015 YA Wrap-up: January – March Books

Now that winter is officially coming to an end, it’s a perfect time to highlight my favorite Winter 2015 YA releases, along with a few titles that are still on my TBR list.

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Marissa Meyer’s Fairest is the latest book (following Cress) in The Lunar Chronicles: a science-fiction retelling of Cinderella (Cinder, 2011), Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet, 2012), Rapunzel (Cress, 2012), and Snow White (Winter, Nov 2015). The series’ overarching plot involves the main characters trying to stop the Lunar queen (who can control minds with her powerful glamour) from threatening the humans, androids, cyborgs, and Lunar refugees that live on Earth. If Prince Kai won’t marry Levana, she’ll attack Earth!

Fairest (2015) tells Levana’s story of how she became the villain we love to hate. While the other books depict her as rather one-dimensionally evil, Fairest reveals the underlying reasons for her villainy. It does not justify her evil behavior but portrays her as a surprisingly complex and sympathetic character.

Jodi Meadows’ The Orphan Queen is an engrossing YA fantasy about a tough princess, Wil, who wants desperately to take back her conquered kingdom. Nearly ten years ago, the Indigo army attacked her homeland Aecor and killed every noble adult, putting their children in an orphanage (from which Wil and her orphan “family,” called Ospreys, escaped).

The Ospreys are stealthy thieves who have been plotting for years to infiltrate the Indigo Kingdom. To spy on the Indigo Court, Wil and her best friend, Melanie, impersonate refugee nobles who have fled a fallen kingdom for the safety of Skyvale Palace. Not only must Wil hide her true identity from Crown Prince Tobiah (whom she fears might recognize her from ten years ago), but she must keep her magical abilities secret. Magic is banned from the Indigo Kingdom to prevent the toxic by-product of magic (called wraith) from spreading. Wil must also avoid another confrontation with Black Knife, a vigilante who is really good at catching magic-users (besides herself). Full of risky adventure, magic, and romance, The Orphan Queen is a great choice for fans of Graceling and Throne of Glass.

I love modern retellings of fairy tales and myths involving magic, curses, and physical transformations. Cat Hellison’s Beastkeeper is influenced by “Beauty and the Beast,” yet thirteen-year-old Sarah’s struggles to understand and cope with her family’s curse is its own unique and lyrical fairy tale.

Why did Cody’s best friend Meg kill herself? Gayle Forman’s I Was Here explores this difficult question with emotional complexity and resonance. Whether you’re a fan of If I Stay, or just want to read something profoundly heartbreaking and heartwarming (along the lines of All the Bright Places), I recommend this book.

If you have read Lauren Oliver’s previous books (Delirium, Panic, etc), then you know she’s an excellent writer who realistically portrays what it’s like to be a teen. With its surprising plot twists and turns, Vanishing Girls is an emotionally turbulent account of how sisters Dara and Nick went from being inseparable to estranged after a terrible car accident pushed them apart.

Stacey Lee’s Under a Painted Sky, which just came out yesterday, takes place in 1849 during the California Gold Rush, but it’s not a typical American frontier myth featuring stereotypical cowboys and cowgirls. The “cowgirl” narrator, fifteen-year-old Sammy, is Chinese, and what she struggles to overcome on the American frontier is racism. When her father’s death and another horrible incident force Sammy to flee Missouri, she and a runaway slave, disguised as male, join a group of guys heading for California on the Oregon Trail. Click here to read what Stacey Lee had to say about creating Under a Painted Sky.

SEQUELS: Since you may not have read the first books in these series (The Winner’s Curse and Seraphina), I’m not going to discuss the plots of Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Crime and Rachel Hartman’s Shadow Scale. Overall, The Winner’s Curse trilogy is about the very complicated romance between a general’s daughter and her slave that takes place in a world similar to the Roman Empire’s conquering of Greece. (Read Nicola’s recommendation here). Seraphina is also about prejudice, political struggles, complicated romance, and war, that is set in an alternative-medieval world where dragons coexist uneasily with humans.


Here’s a recap of what I’ve recommended for Coven Book Club already (with links to those posts): All the Bright Places, Red Queen, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, MonstrousNightbirdEchoA Darker Shade of MagicBones & All and Bone Gap.


Here’s what’s still in my Winter 2015 TBR pile: The Mime Order (read Allison’s recommendation here), A Wicked Thing (read Nicola’s recommendation here), The Darkest Part of the ForestThe Wrong Side of RightEverything That Makes YouWhen Reason BreaksMy Heart and Other Black Holes, and The Last Time We Say Goodbye.

I’ll be back tomorrow to share with you my favorite YA books coming out this spring!

Alyssa Raymond recommends new and upcoming releases in young adult fiction (and occasionally middle grade and adult) for Coven Book Club and its newly-launched sister site Spellbinding Books. She thanks Edelweiss, Netgalley, and the publishers for sending her ARCs and DRCs for review purposes. Please follow her on Twitter.

February Favorites: New Heroines, New Worlds, New Conflicts

Last week I recommended Jennifer Niven’s new book All the Bright PlacesThis week I will highlight my favorite young adult fantasy novels published this month: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen (out today) and Melinda Salisbury’s The Sin Eater’s Daughter (out 2/24).

These debut novels, the first of planned trilogies, have everything I look for in great fantasy. Their heroines are strong, yet conflicted, as they fight against a formidable villain (or villains). Each narrative is thrilling and suspenseful, full of surprising twists and turns, and takes place in a precarious world of magical powers, royal intrigue, power struggles, rebellion, betrayal, and complicated romance. More importantly, Red Queen and The Sin Eater’s Daughter rejuvenate fantasy’s familiar themes, which risk being clichéd, and their characters, storylines and worlds are creative, unique and intricate.

RED QUEEN Told in first-person narrative, this book instantly drew me into 17-year-old Mare’s dangerous world, and I had a strong sense of characters, setting and conflict from the beginning.

Red Queen opens with Mare picking pockets in the muddy, overcrowded and overheated village called The Stilts, where the disadvantaged Reds reside. It’s First Friday—which she hates—and she, along with other Reds, must go to the arena to watch the privileged Silvers demonstrate their superhuman abilities in fierce competition. The kingdom of Norta is divided by red blood and silver blood: the Silvers (and the royal family in particular), with their supernatural powers and wealth, rule over the Reds. Norta has also been in an endless war with the bordering Lakelands, and the Reds, of course, are the first to die in the trenches.

At first, Mare’s biggest challenge is stealing enough money to be smuggled somewhere safe from the Silvers, so she and her best friend won’t be sent off to war. But her difficulties escalate when she receives a royal summons. Fortunately, she is not arrested like she feared, but she is taken to the royal palace to serve the Silvers during a special occasion, the Queenstrial: noble daughters compete to become the next queen. As the contestants try to prove the superiority of their powers to the crown prince, Mare is drawn into their dangerous game. After a surprising discovery she becomes further enmeshed with the royal Silvers and the Red rebellion. Whom should she trust? What will she fight for?

THE SIN EATER’S DAUGHTER This book’s beautiful cover and enticing premise immediately caught my attention. But, as we all know, not every book is as good as its jacket—fortunately, in this case, it is even better. 

The Sin Eater’s Daughter combines many familiar elements from fantasy and folklore to tell a unique story. Seventeen-year-old Twylla’s life seems ideal and reads like a myth or fairy tale. As a goddess embodied, she has superhuman powers, lives in a castle and is engaged to a handsome prince. A few years earlier, she was happy to escape her fate as the Sin Eater’s daughter when she was summoned to court. (Through ritual meals, her mother consumes the recently deceased’s sins so they will rest in peace). But now her destiny is even more difficult than being the next Sin Eater.

Twylla is at the mercy of a tyrannical queen who has made her the royal executioner. Each month, as Daunen Embodied (the reborn daughter of the two gods who rule the world), she must lay her hands on those the queen has accused of treason—even people she cares about—and offer them the blessings of the gods. She tells those who will die from her fatal touch that they will be absolved of their sins eventually; but everyone knows that people whose sins are not eaten are damned, regardless of the blessing.

To touch Twylla’s poisonous skin is fatal to nearly everyone; only people with royal blood are immune. But even though she and the prince could be intimate, their relationship is distant and confusing. She is lonely and alienated—that is, until she is assigned a new guard who should fear her fatal touch as much as anyone but doesn’t; instead he believes in her humanity. Yes, what follows is somewhat of a love triangle, which I know can annoy readers (including me). But Twylla’s tricky situation of being betrothed to the prince while she falls in love with her guard is not a typical love triangle, and there are many surprises and uncertainties. Royal intrigue and family drama further complicate life at court, making it difficult to know whom to trust. Will Twylla ever escape her fate? Will she find true love?

COMPARABLE READS Red Queen and The Sin Eater’s Daughter are great choices for fans of the Throne of Glass series and Graceling Realm books. You may also draw similarities to other popular titles (The Hunger GamesThe SelectionDivergent, Shatter Me, and Game of Thrones). While there’s nothing wrong with making such comparisons, I hope you will recognize how inventive and complex each book is in its own right. Happy reading!

Alyssa Raymond loves to read, review and collect books—thanks to her many years as a bookseller at the Boulder Book Store. She can’t wait to share with you her favorite new releases. She thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and the publishers for providing her with advanced readers copies in exchange for her honest reviews. You can find her on twitter @acrbks.