24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: fantasy (page 1 of 3)

Abby Reads: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova
Sourcebooks Fire, 2016, 336 pages
YA Fantasy

When her powers finally arrive in Zoraida Córdova’s Labyrinth Lost, Alex couldn’t be more upset. It seems magic has only caused her family trouble since her aunt’s death and her father’s disappearance. After a boy, Nova, tells her there might be a way to reject her new bruja magic, Alex is on board. All she 27969087has to do is refuse her family’s blessing during her Deathday celebration. But as it turns out, there are consequences bigger than she’s willing to pay to live a life without magic, and it sends her on a journey in another realm where she’ll be tested at every turn.

Labyrinth Lost starts off strong.  Córdova’s weaving of magic into the real-life setting of Brooklyn, NY is a spectacular thing to behold. Though the bruja and brujo community may be small, its family-like structure is reminiscent of ethnic communities around the country with a strong root in tradition. This world-building brings readers right into Alex’s life and allows them to buy right into her story despite the fantastical elements. Once Alex and Nova cross into another realm, Córdova seems to stagger somewhat. Each layer of the new universe represents new challenges for Alex and Nova, much like the seven circles of hell. But each new location is underdeveloped and never comes well together as a whole, leaving the new world feeling un-built. Chapters following Alex and Nova’s descent into the magical realm frequently feel more like getting through a list of locations rather than experiencing a connected narrative.

Córdova begins strong with an explanation of the magical universe she’s created, too, but this soon falters when the magical realm becomes Alex’s new reality. Rituals and other features of Alex’s magic are dropped away once she leaves Earth, leaving readers wondering about the particulars of bruja magic and, by some extension, Alex, her family, and her culture. Labyrinth Lost is missing out on layers again and again: in world building, plot, relationships, and characters. Each of these somewhat flat, it’s difficult to invest in Alex and her story even when the stakes of losing her family permanently are so high.

Sections of prose in Labyrinth Lost are great examples of solid, atmospheric writing. Often, Córdova writes with vivid and visceral language that helps to describe the scene, even if the events of a moment are foggy — which they often are. Other times, the writing is clunky and doesn’t suit the larger, more general feel of the novel.

Labyrinth Lost feels paradoxical a lot of the time. Though Córdova begins with a great deal of confidence, by the end the novel she is more shaken — not just due to the hazy events that never felt especially clear, but also due to inconsistent writing and a lack of support for the big ideas of the book. Though Alex is one-of-a-kind as far as I’m concerned when it comes to young adult heroines, there were pieces of her that felt essentially missing. A reveal regarding her good friend, for example, seemed to come out of nowhere and jolt the book in a way that didn’t serve it well. This information felt far more throwaway than it deserved to be, and left me with more questions than I had answers. With all the Labyrinth Lost hype, I’m not sure I was as impressed as I expected to be. It’s an important piece in terms of diversity for young adult fantasy literature, but left lots to be desired.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Borderline by Mishell Baker

TW: suicide, mental illness

 

Borderline by Mishell Baker
Saga Press, 2016, 400 pages
Urban Fantasy

A twenty-something Los Angeles filmmaker, Millie doesn’t have a lot going for her in the first of the Arcadia Project series, Borderline. Recovering from a severe suicidal episode that cost her her legs, Millie suffers from borderline personality disorder and has, for quite some time, lived in a facility in which 25692886she has access to healthcare professionals. But when a mysterious woman shows up and offers her independence in the form of employment, Millie jumps at the chance. She soon discovers her work will include plenty of detective work as she works to hunt down a missing fey person and work out how his connections are involved with the help of her partner and the rest of those working for the Arcadia Project.

I came into this novel after asking the folks at Book Riot for a recommendation based on the elements of my all-time favorite book, War for the Oaks. I requested something in the urban fantasy vein that had a great female lead, faeries, grittiness, a little urban feel, a stark feeling of realism within the fantasy, and music. Based on those qualifications, Borderline had a pretty strong start. The female lead was interesting and by no means nice, Baker had her own take on faeries, Millie’s reality as a double-amputee and someone with a serious mental health diagnosis was certainly gritty, there was a reasonably strong sense of realism, and, while there was no music, there was a heavy presence of art in the form of movies. After a quarter to a half of the novel, most of those things had fallen away in one way or another from their strong start.

Millie, though originally with a refreshing, biting personality that is often reserved for men in procedural dramas (think Gregory House of House, MD) — to include hypersexuality driven by symptoms of her borderline personality disorder — became a bore after not too long. While it was fun to watch a woman inhabit this character for a while, Millie’s existence as a woman dissolves and the reader might as well be reading about a man. Because her gender felt so specific in the opening, the lack of its influence in the rest of the novel doesn’t fit well. Additionally, while Millie doesn’t need to be likable to be interesting — and I’ll again state that I don’t feel protagonists need to be likable to be worth reading about, nor do they need to be redeemed for a novel to be of value — there’s a strange disconnect in which Millie is often quite socially aware and politically correct, excepting for a few moments, one of which features her having an unkind, racially-charged thought to the detriment of an Asian American character. Her generally harsh personality combined with this propensity to be social-justice conscious seems at odds, and is never quite explained or developed enough to make sense, unless readers suppose it’s some feature of her personal experience with mental illness and stigma.

Grittiness remains throughout with Millie’s challenges as a double-amputee and someone with BPD, but the industrial grittiness I admittedly looked for in comparison to War for the Oaks was mostly absent in the shiny land of Los Angeles. And, I think the form of art featured (again, instead of the cool and dirty rock ‘n’ roll of Oaks) took away from any potential grittiness, especially as film is used as a sort of metaphor for illusions and glamor (a faerie concept, if you’re familiar with the genre, meaning magical visual illusions, primarily). So these things ultimately let me down.

Also frustrating for my tastes was that Borderline sits more comfortably as a detective or mystery novel, much like a procedural show like CSI might. It seems that Borderline is one of these, first, before it is a fantasy novel. This is partly evidenced in that, aside from the heavy procedural and detective influences on the plot, Baker seems to know more about her fantasy world than she lets on. This is somewhat natural, given Millie is new to it and she is the reader’s eyes for the purposes of this story. But the fact remains that Borderline doesn’t quite feel as advertised. Plus, Baker has a new take on faerie lore — fine, maybe, for others, but not for me.

Borderline has a sequel, but it’s not something I feel compelled to read. Though the novel might not be bad, it simply wasn’t what I was looking for and felt miscategorized and poorly marketed based on the dust jacket description and cover image. Baker’s world needed more explanation and less of a detective lean for my tastes.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella
Houghton Mifflin, 1982, 265 pages
Fantasy

After a bodiless voice tells him to do it, Ray Kinsella turns his farmland into a baseball diamond, where he awaits the appearance of long-dead Shoeless Joe Jackson in W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe. When Jackson shows up, Ray knows this is not the end of this wild spiritual journey. Instead, he is compelledImage result for shoeless joe wp kinsella to drive from Iowa to New Hampshire in search of the recluse J. D. Salinger, at which point he will take Salinger to a Red Sox game and — well, who knows. Driven by complicated feelings about his upbringing and a desire to be a part of something bigger than himself, Ray travels halfway across the country and finds there’s more to baseball than he ever imagined.

I realize naming a character Ray Kinsella has narrative value in that it’s relevant to the J. D. Salinger connection (read the book for more information on that), but it felt pretty ridiculous reading a novel in which the author shared the main character’s last name. I think most of us can agree that male writers tend to do a lot of self-insertion (and, true, writers of all genders do, but it seems the men deny it to an extra degree), but this felt especially egregious. In any case, the name was distracting, especially as it appeared as a Point again and again.

The danger of putting Ray on a quest for Salinger and him rolling over in his doubts for hundreds of miles of driving is that the story can be monotonous at times. Typically by himself, Ray has little cause for dialog and primarily ruminates on his baseball field, its implications, sometimes his family (both the one he was born into and the one he’s created). He makes sweeping observations about American life and leisure, which can be interesting, if a bit pretentious at times. And, perhaps predictably, Ray falls into the unfortunate state of racism and sexism on occasion. One particular scene troubled me, in which Ray purchases a gun. In an exchange with a gun shop clerk, Ray and the clerk discuss how the neighborhood has changed “if you know what I mean.” Kinsella — both author and narrator — need say no more for modern readers, at least, to pick up on the fact that the reference, here, is to people of color moving into the neighborhood, particularly with the context around this scene. It’s a shame. Although I’m not one to believe a book must eschew racism outright, I do believe it ought to have a purpose if it is going to appear. In this case, the conversation was nothing but filler, rendering it as just a vehicle for racism. In many other scenes, Ray’s focus is on his wife’s body, her little girlishness, his daughter’s similar innocence, and other dehumanizing aspects of the few women present in the story — again, to no real point.

Though these moments might do little to illustrate any consequential character traits (at least insofar as they’re related to the narrative), Kinsella does an otherwise fine job of developing the inhabitants of Shoeless Joe. Both J. D. Salinger and Moonlight Graham are especially good examples of characterization well done. They are complex individuals with motivations and desires, developed to the point of realism. While I don’t know enough about Salinger’s personal life story (beyond the usual facts of reclusiveness and rumors) to imagine this characterization was either well-researched or accurate, it certainly comes across as reasonably real.

Shoeless Joe has been, in my experience, surprisingly overlooked as a piece of good literature. Capital-L Literature, even. The novel is slow-paced, to be sure, and not a whole lot happens. But the prose is delicious to turn over in most passages, and there’s no doubt Kinsella-the-author does a fantastic job at weaving magic and realism into a seamless example of magical realism. None of it seemed so outlandish that it couldn’t be, particularly in the very sacred context of baseball. Like lots of Literature, it does at times seem pretentious and lofty, but it’s the tolerable kind that adds to the story, rather than detracting from it. Even if you’re not a fan of baseball, Shoeless Joe provides another look at the American Dream, wanting to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and the concept of spiritualism — and, it’s worth reading just to compare to the movie adaptation, Field of Dreams.

 

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Witch Child by Celia Rees

Witch Child by Celia Rees
Candlewick, 2000, 288 pages
YA Historical Fiction

After her grandmother is accused of and executed for witchcraft, young Mary is left to fend for herself in Celia Rees’s Witch Child. A mysterious woman collects Mary following her grandmother’s execution advises Mary to make a journey to the New World and start a new life there. With the means to do 803120so and nothing left for her in England, Mary strikes out across the sea. But the suspicions which plagued her grandmother follow her and the relationships she fosters across the community aren’t helping to assuage any fears in her town.

Told in a sort of diary format, Witch Child details its narrator’s life with quite a bit of detail, often straying to the mundane aspects of the characters’ lives even as they make a perilous and fraught journey across the sea and develop a new community from scratch. With Mary being a rather passive character who says little but observes frequently, her narrative is somewhat uneventful. While the potential for much is there — and certainly, action happens in subtle ways — little actually seems to happen on the page that is capable of holding the reader’s attention. The prose is fairly aimless, as real diaries often are, and makes for slow and sometimes frustrating progress.

The conflict around Mary and her relationship with her mother is compelling. Much of it is an enigma, and perhaps it is the lack of information Mary gives about the backstory and what else she learns along the way that makes it especially intriguing, but in a book that is otherwise fairly devoid of riveting narrative, this plot point feels like a missed opportunity. Beyond the first quarter or so of the novel, Mary barely considers her mother or the lack of her mother’s presence, even as she is surrounded by women giving birth, it seems, and families. While another woman steps in to play the role of mother in Mary’s life, this relationship never quite passes as the same thing and, in fact, the woman in this role seems to fade in and out of the narrative. This, I think, is again typical and realistic for the diary format in which the novel is written, but it means potentially interesting thematic elements are, at best, weak.

In another show of dedication to realism, Mary meets many, many people on her journey. As several of them are beholden to Puritanical ideals and their primarily personality traits are condemning those who are different from them, telling each apart can be a challenge. This is especially difficult when the pace of the story moves slowly and the narrative offers few moments of conflict or action to hook the reader’s attention and give them a reason to keep track of so many names.

While I expected something atmospheric and witchy (that cover!), or something similar to Ann Rinaldi’s A Break with Charity, what I got was something rather disappointing. Bland with probably an abundance of subtlety I was too lazy to pick up on, Witch Child was not the late-October kind of read I was looking for when I slogged through it. Mary’s lack of personality and adherence to quiet inaction makes the novel a tough one to be excited about while the strict realism reinforces monotony (real life is boring: that’s why I read). Witch Child is probably one you can skip, but it might be worth the money just for that stunning cover.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Henry Holt and Co., 2015, 480 pages
Fantasy

Offered the opportunity of a lifetime, Kaz Brekker knows he has to pull together the best possible team to pull of the most ridiculous heist ever attempted. It’s hard enough with antagonists after the team left and right, but with a team that can’t get along with itself, the caper is even more difficult. Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoRelationships old and new appear in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows, set in a world familiar to readers of her other books.

Okay — let me be completely honest: I didn’t really know what was going on for 90% of this book. It’s a hefty object in hardcover, though I was surprised to find it was only 480 pages when I checked for the data above. It felt like at least 600. Six of Crows has an interesting premise and its fans love the characters and root for their favorite couples. I would, too, I think, if it weren’t for the fact that it was like walking through molasses mixed with superglue to read. Six of Crows is especially slow at the beginning as Bardugo introduces readers to her main characters and their motivations. When the group finally gets together, they are rarely all present on the same page, making it difficult to see how they really operate as a team.

The plot is burdened not only by its slow pace, but by its seeming lack of stakes. Though Kaz and his crew are clearly motivated to receive their rewards for the heist (which I’m still not clear on the details for), the stakes never felt particularly high or driving. This lack of drive might come from the lack of clarity I struggled with so much, but regardless, it had a serious impact on how interesting I found the book.

Adding to the slow pace of the plot is a narration style that is overly stylized. While this might have been appropriate for a shorter work, Six of Crows is already weighed down with a slow plot and a whole lot of world building (not to mention characters who are guarded — I’ll get to that). Although the prose might help suggest the sort-of-steampunk setting, it doesn’t do so enough to warrant how severely entrenched the style is.

Bardugo does produce an interesting round of characters, to some degree. Nina and Matthias, in particular, are both characters who often behave in unexpected ways and play off each other nicely. This is heightened by a fascinating backstory (which is perhaps part of her other series? I’m not familiar and can’t say.) that is touched on here and there throughout Six of Crows. The pair have a realistic and smoldering sort of chemistry, which left me skimming through pages just to reach scenes that featured them together. Meanwhile, Kaz, for all his Tumblr fans, seems awfully simplistic in his jaded ways and, beyond Kaz, Inej, Matthias, and Nina, none of the other characters are terribly memorable (including the two other main characters, Wylan and Jesper, both of whose names I forgot multiple times while reading).

Despite the decided cliffhanger at the end of the novel, Six of Crows didn’t compel me to run out for the next in the series, Crooked Kingdom. While I’d consider returning for the sequel, it’s not at the top of my list and it has some serious redeeming to do for Six of Crows in my book.

I read this book as part of Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge, fulfilling challenge #12, “Read a fantasy novel,” and I leave it behind with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1962, 211 pages
Juvenile Fantasy

It’s been years since twelve-year-old Meg Murry saw her father who is on a mission assigned by the United States government in Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time. Though she knows it involves something called a tesseract, Meg’s understanding of what her father is doing ends about there. 18131When her brother Charles Wallace meets the enigmatic Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who, the witchy women send Meg, Charles, and Meg’s schoolmate Calvin on a journey to find and free Charles and Meg’s father, but there are dangers in other worlds they have not even begun to imagine.

Reading this at twenty-five was an exercise of the mind. Now that I’m working as a children’s librarian, I’ve felt nostalgic about my own elementary school years. I first read A Wrinkle in Time in an advanced English class in fifth grade. At the time, I recall understanding this novel on a far deeper level than I did this time and I’ve been unable to recreate what it was I understood then that I don’t now. I don’t believe this is a failing of the book however — rather, I think it takes an incredibly talented author to pull this off.

A bit chaotic and with a staccato pace, A Wrinkle in Time still stands up as something unique and wonderful. Despite the reaching Meg and her companions do across the universes, it never seems unnatural that they’d be doing so without adult supervision. And when adult supervision does arrive in the form of Mr. Murry, he’s utterly useless. L’Engle breaks a truth to kids here that often goes ignored until adulthood and sometimes even beyond: parents are not infallible, nor are they all-knowing.

L’Engle is funny in moments, bestowing the name of “Happy Medium” on a fortune teller and weaving humor into situations that are trying for the young characters. L’Engle’s focus is always on the children, too — even when in a nearly bodice-ripping moment, Calvin kisses Meg, readers are not at all apprised of Mr. Murry’s reaction, though he is standing nearby. Given that the last time he saw Meg was when she was only seven or eight years old, this event must be at least a little shocking to him and L’Engle does not divulge it.

What’s special about A Wrinkle in Time is its ability to describe complex concepts of physics in such a way that make sense to both children and adults. The title itself is one such example, as the children learn their travel through space is aided by a ripple that allows them to skip from point A to point C without traveling through point B. It is only when you truly understand a concept that you can describe it so simply, and L’Engle shows her ability here with great strength.

Another achievement of A Wrinkle in Time is Meg’s revolutionary character. As a young girl in the early 1960s, Meg is interested in math and science — this is so much unlike the majority of the literature at the time and, even, today, done to the extent and with such realism as Meg is, that readers can’t help but cheer for her, even when she is churlish and brusque.

You may not be able to appreciate A Wrinkle in Time the same way as an adult as you did as a child. But the merit is still there. Give this novel another look before the film comes out and you might find something in yourself you didn’t know was there to begin with.

❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle Van Arsdale

The Beast Is an Animal by Peternelle van Arsdale
Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017, 352 pages
Fantasy

With a dark and witchy feel akin to the Salem Witch Trials, The Beast Is an Animal is a debut novel by Peternelle van Arsdale (and what a name — both the title and author!). I first heard of the YA fantasy in an episode of Book Riot’s All the Books with Liberty Hardy and Rebecca Schinsky and it sounded amazing. After two sisters and their mother are banished from a town for suspicion of witchcraft, the town feels the effects. Years later, seven-year-old Alys is found wandering in the fields by a traveler. When he returns her to her home, he finds her parents — along with all townsfolk over the age of fifteen — have perished. Alys and her young townmates are adopted by families in a nearby town, but the suspicion grows over the newcomers and Alys, especially. While Alys resists the pull of the two sisters who have found their way into her life, she must reconcile her murderous feelings with her love for her adoptive family.

The Beast Is an Animal begins with a fascinating and atmospheric concept, but it’s an atmosphere that just can’t be sustained for hundreds of pages — at least, not the way van Arsdale tells it. Alys spends a good portion (nearly half) of the book as a child and, consequently, her thoughts and understanding of the world around her are limited by experience and knowledge. Though there is so much potential to dive into various ideas about human nature and cruelty, van Arsdale can barely scratch the surface with her young character. Even as Alys ages, something about her lack of exposure to the world outside her village seems to limit her ability to consider the deeper implications of her actions and the actions of those around her.

Van Arsdale is, perhaps, just being subtle. There are moments in the novel that reach a deeper understanding and payoffs here and there. These often come in the form of meticulous prose. As a book editor by trade, van Arsdale’s strength is very obviously in the language, which is fairly consistently beautiful, interesting, and haunting. Her prose, however, cannot carry the basic lack of plot alone. Though Alys clearly has a predicament, what she really wants is unclear throughout the novel. A last-minute love interest seems to be a thing of plot convenience and motivation more than something natural, and Alys hardly has enough personality to warrant a realistic relationship.

Alys isn’t alone in having little personality. Few characters in the book do, the primary of which being Pawl, who discovers her as a young girl wandering in the fields. It is later in the novel, especially, that he and his wife feature in an especially poignant way, driven by their taste for alcohol and drunkenness. This particular trait makes Pawl one of the most interesting characters as it is so at odds with his cheery personality. Not many characters qualify as prime players — instead, a blurry mish-mash of villagers make up the antagonistic forces in Alys’s life, along with the sisters and the beast itself, who, while a fascinating idea, is not well developed and instead rather superficial and without much impact.

Ultimately, van Arsdale has something here, both in concept and in ability to write. The Beast Is an Animal falls short with a plot that doesn’t stand strong in its structure nor urges readers forward with momentum, purpose, or stakes. My expectations for The Beast Is an Animal — and I still can’t get over that striking title — were, admittedly, high. This might be better read around Halloween and might even make a fascinating class assignment alongside The Crucible or A Break with Charity. Fans of All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry might find similar elements in The Beast Is an Animal and enjoy it, to an extent, but van Arsdale’s first attempt is not quite a hit.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah Maas
Bloomsbury USA, 2017, 707 pages
Fantasy

With Feyre back in the confines of the prison that is Tamlin’s mansion, she and the Night Court crew are working on a scheme to get her out and back to the fae she now knows as her mate, Rhysand. It’s not long until the impulsive Feyre is slashing throats and taking names in an aim to escape, but old friendships cause a hindrance and family is now at once both more and less than it once was. Feyre must adjust to her new role as High Lady of the Night Court while still figuring out her new physical self, first discovered at the end of A Court of Thorns and Roses. Sarah Maas brings the motley group to a roaring crescendo as they fight for their lives in A Court of Wings and Ruin.

Like the two previous novels in the series, Wings and Ruin is slow in places. With infighting, particularly now that Feyre’s sisters are present to provide an additional point of view, plenty of scenes are taken up by simple back-and-forth conversations, often rehashing long-made decisions as small pieces of information appear to the High Lord and his “family.” Lucien, who is caught between a long-time friendship and alliance with Tamlin and his affection for Feyre, provides yet another perspective that demands reckoning as the various sides approach a battle, if not a full on war. As other courts become involved, war strategizing becomes the bulk of the plot leading up to the few battles themselves, which can make the prose drag at a hefty 707 pages.

These conversations and the plot of the book itself means there are new characters and returning acquaintances to keep track of. Complicating the new roll call is the fact that these characters are building political relationships with each other and, as those occasionally fall out or fall in for one reason or another, it means taking note of these and remembering the status of each relationship can be a challenge.

Maas gets a bit dramatic in Wings and Ruin, which might help with some of the more monotonous scenes, but more often than not leads to passages that just feel overwritten and insincere. With Feyre as narrator, Maas has to find new ways to make the readers love Rhys as much as Feyre does, leading to some slightly awkward and overdone phrases that just don’t feel genuine or are otherwise so invasive that it feels ridiculous rather than sexy.

But this isn’t to say the whole book is a loss. To the contrary, it’s a fun read, even if it’s not my favorite of the series. A Court of Mist and Fury was, to my mind, superior to Wings and Ruin with more obvious conflict and, of course, the building tension between Rhys and Feyre sustaining much of the plot. Wings and Ruin doesn’t have the benefit of that so much — and Maas didn’t quite reach her potential with the lovers’ separation — but it does have moments that are truly exciting and ultimately propel the story forward.

Picking this up, I was under the impression that the series was over. Certainly by the end, all of the large conflicts have been resolved in one way or another, perhaps to or not to the characters’ satisfactions. Even Tamlin has a fascinating scene toward the end that bumps up the quality of the book significantly and perhaps gives a sneak peek as to what Maas is really capable of (and, having returned to the Throne of Glass series a few times after originally disliking it, I think Maas has a whole lot of potential we haven’t seen yet, but that will build of the years into something quite impressive).

As the novel truly came to a close, however, I felt some things were unresolved. I’m unsure if there’s another to come in A Court of series or if we should expect some spinoffs, but I’m doubtful that this is the last we’ll truly see of Feyre and the troop. In fact, Maas has teasingly noted that a crossover between her two series wouldn’t be impossible. Given than Throne of Glass is the larger epic and as of yet unfinished, I’m left wondering if we can perhaps expect an appearance of our favorite Court in a pivotal moment for Celaena and friends in Throne of Glass.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015, 272 pages
Fantasy Graphic Novel

With the ability to shapeshift and a great admiration for Lord Ballister Blackheart, Nimona has decided it’s time to be a sidekick. Though her origins are hazy, Nimona will not be denied by Blackheart and she eventually wears him down by taking what she wants and showing up to work against the Institute of Law Enforcement alongside Blackheart. With each battle, Nimona wreaks havoc on Blackheart’s plans but there’s something in Nimona that tugs at Blackheart and perhaps something nefarious going on at the Institute of Law Enforcement. With a mash-up of medieval times and science fiction, Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is a highly original adventure that is far more than it first appears to be.

One of the impressive things about Nimona is that the story is far more complex than I can get into in a review. There are backstories, lies, hidden identities, layers of loyalty, and all sorts of plot subtleties that round out the story as a whole and complete narrative. With an ending that isn’t entirely conclusive, Stevenson leaves readers with the ability to insert their own ending, but not at the cost of the readers feeling lost or unfulfilled.

Another of Nimona’s strengths is its dedication to humor. The stark visual contrast between Nimona, who is short, pudgy, and pink-haired, to the tall, thin, dark-haired Blackheart is enough to make readers giggle to start, but the real gems come in the form of dialog. Nimona, a chronic over-reactor, regularly spurts lines of hilarity that are not, from her perspective, intended to be funny, but are amusing nonetheless. Stevenson’s skill in employing humor in a story that is so complex might remind some readers of Vonnegut, despite the radically different format. Readers won’t just smile from humor, however; Nimona is ultimately a story of heart and courage. The brand of courage in the graphic novel is more of a surety of oneself rather than, say, Men in Black courage of defeating aliens (although, if you liked Men in Black, you will also very much enjoy Nimona, I think). The book is immensely heartwarming at every turn, though particularly in scenes that feature Nimona and Blackheart alone.

Each character is carefully crafted with their own motivations, desires, backstories, and visual design that both serve to mirror and contradict their personalities. Stevenson succeeds a great deal in playing characters off one another, creating a sense of chemistry that is hard to find in other narratives. With the depth of each character, no relationship can afford to be truly superficial, even in instances of acquaintances.

Nimona is highly relevant for today — the attempt at diversity (which seems to be an excellent and still-emerging theme in media more and more) is evident (the story features a female lead who is decidedly not traditionally feminine outside of her pink hair, a woman in the ultimate seat of power, gay secondary characters, and a secondary character with a prosthetic limb — and not only this, but the primary relationship featured in the story is not of the romantic, or even friend (arguably), variety). Characters of color are few and far between and socioeconomic status appears to be a non-issue in many ways, so there are gaps, but Nimona remains one of the most overtly diverse pieces of fiction I’ve encountered in a while.

The relevance does not end at diversity, however. The politics of Nimona’s world are strikingly similar to what we see in many modern governments — a lack of trust between the government (or, more specifically, the Institute of Law Enforcement — the acronym of which you might notice could be anagrammed to the word “lie” — yeah, maybe I’m pushing it here, but still) and the people of its domain features heavily, though ultimately, the government is not acting on the best interests of the people.

Great for teens and adults alike, Nimona is a fresh take on old tropes that is both fun and thought-provoking (and hilarious). Stevenson’s work on the project was clearly done with loads of love and planning, and, from someone, you’ll remember, who isn’t huge on graphic novels, it comes recommended with four hearts.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016, 640 pages
YA Fantasy

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury follows up on A Court of Thorns and Roses (SPOILERS ahead for A Court of Thorns and Roses). For those who read the first in the series, you might feel like the book concluded the narrative enough to not warrant a sequel — the great thing about the sequel, however, is that it turns everything of Thorns and Roses on its head. I’ve struggled with Maas’s work. I wasn’t a big fan of Throne of Glass and gave up sixty pages into the sequel the first time. But reading Thorns and Roses and its sequel convinced me to revisit the Throne of Glass series (and so far, I’m pretty glad for it, even if I still don’t love it). Mist and Fury picks up as Tamlin goes about protecting his lands from various evil forces. With Feyre still living in his castle, Tamlin determines to keep Feyre inside at all times, for the sake of her safety — this, despite Feyre being an accomplished and capable hunter, proven on multiple occasions. Honoring the deal he made with her in Thorns and Roses, Rhys shows up as Feyre makes her way down the aisle at her and Tamlin’s wedding to pluck her from Tamlin’s court and bring her to his for the week. As Feyre is passed between the two courts, Rhys notices the wear Feyre begins to show as a result of Tamlin’s control.

One of the biggest achievements of Mist and Fury is, from my perspective, its complexity. While I generally don’t love overly-political high fantasy, I think Maas strikes a pretty good balance with this series, including enough politics to make the plot plausible but not so much so as to drown the readers in policy, diplomacy, and other red tape. It is complex enough that I can’t easily add it in the summary above, but suffice to say, new players and old players come into antagonistic roles that could destroy more than just Feyre’s life. And it makes for a fascinating read.

Like most books with plenty of politics, however, there’s a whole lot of build-up involved with subtle plot turns which later become more significant with context. Except for a few exciting moments (Rhys’s appearance at the wedding being one — really, any scene with Rhys made for good entertainment; Feyre so seldom interacts with anyone due to her practical imprisonment, that really any appearance by anyone made things more interesting), the first three-hundred pages are slow. But by the end of the book, I was fangirling harder than I have in years. We’re talking approaching-Harry-Potter levels of fangirling. It was great.

Back to Rhys. Maas is an author who you can see takes criticism seriously and works to rectify it in her future writing. Characters in Mist and Fury, but especially Rhys, are developed with not just layers, but layers that make sense and tie into each character’s history and their relationships with each other. Fine subtleties in character are sprinkled throughout the book and each choice, from the way a character holds their fork to the way a character chooses to scream or not to scream in anguish in battle, is fantastically deliberate. It’s evident that Maas plans very carefully, and follows characters’ development not just in the immediate moment, but in their past and future.

I do think the exception here is Feyre. Feyre still winds up being somewhat bland and trite as far as (fantasy) female first-person narrators/main characters go. Feyre’s painting hobby comes back into play, slightly (though still not enough to warrant such a cliché, in my opinion). Even her hobby aside, Feyre does not have an extraordinary amount of personality. While her sisters, who appear in only a few scenes, feel far more real, readers can’t get a full look at Feyre beyond maybe-tough-girl who hunts and paints and is stubborn. But these traits are portrayed with superficial passages most readers will find familiar to many other similarly designed characters in other novels. Maybe this is a trait in and of itself: Feyre cannot accurately portray her own personality through her first-person narration. The series conclusion, which will be out in May, I suspect will give readers more insight on this issue.

Whatever Feyre’s deal, I’m eager for the final book, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Not only does the ominous title make me reach for the May release date, but with the amount of fangirling that went on in the final moments of Mist and Fury (really, Feyre doesn’t have more character than she does in those final moments — wow), I can only imagine what the grand finale will feel like.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

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