bloodygranuaile: (sociability)
 It's been a little while since The Darkest Part of the Forest came out. I bought it when Holly Black did an event at Brookline Booksmith with Sarah Rees Brennan (to whom the book is dedicated), but I only got around to actually reading it when I was in Maine last week. This is what happens when I decide to be a responsible adult and read more nonfiction instead of YA fantasy all the time. But I've recently realized that I really can't be giving up my YA fantasy too much, because being alone in my head with only my head and things that have happened in reality is bad for my mental health.
 
Anyway. The Darkest Part of the Forest takes place in a town called Fairfold, where everyone knows that fairies are real, because there's a boy with horns asleep in a glass coffin in the woods next to the town. He's been there for generations and the glass never breaks, although if you try too hard to break it terrible things might happen to you. The townsfolk know how dangerous the fairies are but pretend that it's all OK because if anything bad happens to someone they were acting like a stupid tourist, and no one thinks too closely about the morality of sacrificing tourists to the whims of the fairies, especially when most of the town's economy depends on them.
 
Our protagonist is a teenage girl named Hazel, who used to hunt bad fairies with her musically gifted brother, Ben, back when they were kids. When I use the term "musically gifted" here, it's not a figure of speech; it was a gift from a fairy given to Ben when he was a baby. But then something happened, and Hazel and Ben have not gone bad-fairy-hunting in a long time. Instead, Ben goes on bad internet dates with inappropriate dudes, and Hazel makes out with boys at parties and tries not to have any residual feelings from her childhood crush on her classmate Jack, who is actually a changeling. Jack's mom managed to get her real child back but hung onto Jack to raise as well out of sheer outrage that the fairies had pulled this BS on a town resident.
 
The main plot kicks off when the horned boy in the glass coffin wakes up one day, and Hazel wakes up in the morning covered in mud with glass splinters in her fingers. Hazel, Ben, and Jack wind up on a multi-pronged quest to find the horned boy, figure out what's happened to Hazel's nights, defeat the Alderking and his increasingly misbehaving subjects, suss out some sort of working relationship between Jack and both his moms, and unravel the mystery of the monster Sorrow that's haunting the town. It's a lot to get done in 300 pages, but that's OK.
 
Although I liked the Curse Workers series and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown better than the Tithe series, it's really, really great to see Holly Black take on fairies again. It's not at all repetitive or derivative of the Tithe books; it's possible that they could take place in the same universe, but it's a fresh, new story about love and power and ambition and the compromises communities make with the dark things within themselves for the sake of cohesion. (It does have a couple recurring Holly Black tropes, like parents who love their children in their own way but are also conveniently The Worst at parenting, and lots of teen drinking.) It's also just a fast, whimsical, romantic read, perfect for summer lakeside reading, with enough action and darkness and stuff to feel like it's engaging with the human condition in some way, but mostly is just about a girl running around the woods with an awesome sword trying to solve magical dangers. So really exactly the sort of thing I wanted.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I'm officially six months behind on Mark Reads stuff.

I just finished, er, "reading along" (??) Sir Terry Pratchett's ´╗┐Lords and Ladies´╗┐, which I remembered as "the one with the elves," although I think elves eventually show up again in one of the Tiffany Aching books as well.

In this one, Magrat is unhappily engaged to the new King Verence and is bored as hell with what being queen is apparently going to consist of; a bunch of young Goths are playing with things that are too powerful for them; Granny Weatherwax's old boyfriend returns; and a group of local Morris dancers are trying to put on a play for the royal wedding and are definitely, definitely not going to do the stick-and-bucket dance. On top of all that, crop circles keep appearing.

I'm sort of having trouble coming up with much to say about this book because it's pretty typical Discworld. Fortunately for the reader, "pretty typical Discworld" means it's engaging, hilarious, and equally full of groanworthy puns and deeply insightful humor. This one's deeply grounded in old British Isles traditions of the Fair Folk (as well as a lot of other really old country British stuff), so it's rich with references if you're sufficiently well grounded in those traditions yourself, and probably a bit baffling if you're not. It has wonderful footnotes. Granny Weatherwax continues to kick all kinds of ass, being totally awesome while simultaneously being kind of a terrible person.

Also, I just got the pun in Casanunda's name this time around and I've been reading these books for like fourteen years. Half my life. Clearly my command of the Englishes has improved since I was a high school freshman, which I suppose is a good thing, since in the intervening years I've only gotten a degree in the stupid language and started a career in it.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
It has been a while since I have read an entire novel in one day, but that is what I did today, after picking up Zen Cho's debut fantasy Sorcerer to the Crown this morning from Gillian. (I had it on hold at the library, but it didn't look as if it would get to me in time for book club on Saturday, and I didn't want to start the new year off with anything resembling last year's spectacular performance at failing at book clubs.) Since I have had such an epically productive new year thus far, I rewarded myself by drinking tea and reading for the entire afternoon. It was very satisfying.
The book itself was also very satisfying, being right up my alley in a number of different ways. It's got a lot of the elements I like in Gail Carriger's books Mary Robinette Kowal's books and in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, namely, that it takes place in an alternate version of sometime in imperial England (in this case, it seems to be during the Napoleonic wars) where magic is not hidden; it's got strong comedy-of-manners elements; there is convoluted political intrigue; and it deals with some of imperial England's assorted oppressive social issues.
It also has two leads of color, out of a total of two leads--a black man and a half-white, half-Indian (I think) woman. Or rather, teenage girl. With very strong magical powers. Hyperpowered teenage girl sorceresses are a fav trope of mine going back to my early Tamora Pierce-reading days, so YAY. And I'm trying to seek out more books with men of color as point of view characters or narrators, because I read very few of those--I think I've been more likely to find books with WOC POVs than MOC POVs because I deliberately seek out books by and about women but I've never really specifically sought out books by or about men because, y'know, I really didn't have to, with the result that it was usually books about white men that crossed my path.
Lead character number one is Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of England, a manumitted slave and the adopted son of the former Sorcerer Royal. Zacharias is not the most popular Sorcerer Royal ever; indeed, he is probably the least popular Sorcerer Royal ever, considering he was trained by his adopted father basically as an experiment to prove that black people could learn thaumaturgy too, and the old guard of comfortable British gentleman with plummy accents and bad whiskers (the accents and whiskers not actually mentioned in the book, but c'mon, you know the type) is not very happy that he ended up outranking all of them. Despite being a polite, quiet, conscientious, intelligent, usually even-tempered sort of dude, Zacharias' racist good-old-boy rivals are happy to accuse him of whatever crimes pop into their heads, including having murdered his adopted father and his father's familiar. Zacharias has all of about two friends in the formerly glorious Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, both of whom are Drone Club-type dandies who are smarter than they look.
Lead character number two is the hilariously named Prunella Gentleman, an orphan girl living at a school for gentlewitches, where, in true British fashion, young girls of gentle birth and magical ability are taught how to not do magic, because magic is terribly dangerous and their little female bodies and brains are obviously too frail to handle it. The fact that there are clearly girls of such magical ability that they have to be trained out of doing it is, of course, absolutely no obstacle whatsoever to people continuing to believe this, nor are all the female magic users in other countries, since of course, people in other countries aren't British and therefore aren't really regular people anyway. Prunella has really quite a lot of magical ability even by the standards of the girls sequestered at this school; she also has no family, no money, and no prospects. Fortunately for her, she also has no scruples, no dependents, no romantic notions of the world, and no doubts about her own abilities. She's delightfully ambitious and calculating, leaving poor Zacharias to be entire conscience and moral center of the story.
Zacharias is mostly busy trying not to get assassinated and attempting to figure out why Britain's supply of atmospheric magic is dwindling, but he takes a brief detour on his way to the border between England and Faerie (where the magic is supposed to come from) to make a speech at Prunella's school, as a special favor to one of his two friends, who was supposed to make the speech originally but insists that he is too useless to pull it off. It is here that he meets Prunella and, after a series of unfortunate mishaps, takes her on as an apprentice. What he doesn't know is that, in addition to her considerable powers, Prunella has a couple of mysterious family treasures that are also probably of great sorcerous power, only she doesn't really know what they are or how to use them. To top everything off, some dipshit sultan from halfway across the world is attempting to prevail upon Britain to subdue a bunch of cranky vampire ladies who are causing trouble over in his kingdom.
At first, the more Zacharias and Prunella attempt to solve their respective mysteries, the most confusing everything gets. But eventually, a convoluted web of human and Faerie politics begins to emerge, suggesting that all these disparate issues might be connected--which means in order to fix it, everyone's secrets will eventually have to come out. Nobody is particularly happy about that.
Most of the conflicts in the plot are deeply rooted in Britain's oppressive social structures. In college, I took at class on British Romanticism, and we pretty much analyzed each book along the lines of what I've come to think of as England's Four Pillars of Fuckery: race, class, gender, and imperialism. These are not exclusive to English history, of course, but almost all of the history and art out of England from about 1500 onward can be understood in light of these four specific traditions of othering and oppressing people, which shaped English society in almost every aspect. In this book, rivalries and scheming arise as a result of white magicians' racism against Zacharias (and sometimes Prunella); male magicians' taboo against women practicing magic; the "gentlemen's" refusal to admit magic really existed in the lower orders (and an interesting intersection of class and gender in Prunella's mercenary concern for landing herself a husband in order to establish herself); and the results of the British Empire pissing off the sorcerers and sorceresses of the lands they conquered without really understanding how magic works there or admitting that it could rival British thaumaturgy in any real way. Apart from the magic angle, this fits in well with all the best actual British literature from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which were also all about the various ways in which British society sucked and was oppressive. It also fits in well with a long tradition of hilarious secondary characters, but that could be a whole paper in and of itself.
(Note: Supposedly there's a plague of historical fiction about Regency and Victorian England that romanticizes it and doesn't address all the ways in which it was terrible, and I admit I've never really read any because I guess my recommendations-gathering system is too good? But hearing about its existence baffles me, because stuff like Jane Austen's books and the Bronte sisters' books and everything by Dickens and like all classic Britlit books are all pretty much about how English society sucked and was oppressive. I am mildly curious as to what non-"message fiction" about imperial England could possibly look like, but not enough to seek out any of it and read it. Hell, even Downton Abbey tries to deal with this stuff, even if it ends up pulling most of its punches 3/4 of the way through any given plotline.)
Anyway, I'm very, very much looking forward to deconstructing the hell out of this book next weekend.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
For some Halloween-y reading, I decided to read a book that I'd picked up over the summer in Maine: True Irish Ghost Stories, by St. John D. Seymour and Harry L. Neligan. It is now, as you can see, nearly December. This is because of NaNoWriMo. The most embarassing thing here is that True Irish Ghost Stories is barely a hundred pages long.

A thing I did not realize at first is that this book is a reprint of a work that was originally published shortly after the turn of last century, when Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. Once you start reading it, it's wildly obvious, because it's written in such an earnestly Edwardian manner. The book is a collection of short anecdotes, organized into categories, interspersed with a lot of arguments about why they are credible and that the fashionable skepticism about their validity is arrogance, arrogance I tell you. The two men who compiled this were obviously smart and well-educated men, who are actually quite vocal in their defense of the Irish populace from charges of "superstition" (a popular anti-Catholic stereotype), but who are entirely convinced that it makes prudent scientific sense to believe in "psychical phenomena" and stuff. It's really kind of adorable. The stories themselves are sometimes sort of short and weird--like "there was a Mrs. S and she lived in this house and saw a figure, and then her sister came to visit and she saw it too" and nothing else really happens--but some of them are quite imaginative and interesting, particularly the ones that are less generically haunted-housey and get into banshees and the like. The banshee stories are particularly awesome. Most of these stories aren't that scary, although there are one or two that feature images that managed to get weirdly under my skin anyway, but that may be because I am a highly suggestible wimp (a bad trait for a Goth, but oh well).

I'd really only recommend this to people who are particularly interested in weird folklore; the lack of a narrative thread and the pseudo-scientific tangents would probably make it a bit of a dry read for people who prefer reading regularly-structured books.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
In the latest in Mark Does Stuff readalongs, Mark has apparently decided to read my entire childhood all at the same time, so, while going through all of Tamora Pierce’s stuff on his regular schedule and, now, starting the Enchanted Forest Chronicles on YouTube, he did Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted as a Double Feature.

Ella Enchanted is a loose retelling of Cinderella, in which Ella of Frell was given a “gift” at birth by a well-intentioned but incredibly blockheaded fairy named Lucinda. The “gift” is obedience—meaning that Ella is literally, physically incapable of not obeying orders. If, unlike Lucinda, you take a half a second to think about this, the implications are completely terrible—people can force Ella to do all sorts of unpleasant and even dangerous things and have pretty much endless capacity to take advantage of her.

Rereading this book—and particularly being able to follow along with Mark’s perspective, who, as usual, had never heard of this book before and was going into it completely unspoiled—the main thing that struck me was how freakin’ dark this book is. Not only does Ella’s mother die in the beginning, in tragic fairy tale fashion, but Ella’s father is creepy, Olive is teeth-achingly, relentlessly grasping and weird, Hattie is basically Chris Christie in a wig, Dame Olga is syrupy and insincere, and talking to Lucinda is like getting into an Internet argument with libertarians. The five of them don’t have an ounce of self-awareness between them, which gives me headaches. The implications of Ella’s curse are explored pretty thoroughly (with the notable exception of sexual violence, because this is a children’s book), resulting in Ella having to give up her most treasured possessions and her money up to the last penny, having to cut off her only friend at finishing school, becoming a scullery maid, being prevented from talking to Prince Char, not being able to tell anybody what’s happening to her or why, and almost getting eaten by ogres. While Ella is clever and resourceful enough to escape from some of these scrapes—she doesn’t actually get eaten by the ogres, after all—it’s made quite clear that the curse is relentlessly and debilitatingly capable of fucking up her life, no matter how personally awesome she is. And Ella’s pretty personally awesome—she’s proactive, rebellious, clever, good with languages, fun-loving, and fairly compassionate, although not for people who are acting abusively (which I am okay with; I think understanding is great and all but sometimes it’s acceptable to not focus on what wounded bunnies the poor poor bullies are. I am also sometimes more okay than a lot of other progressives I know with hitting back where it hurts over hitting where the problems is, which is a fancy way of saying that I have zero qualms about Ella stealing Hattie’s wig even though there is nothing wrong with wearing a wig).

The first three-quarters of the book have very little to do with the original Cinderella tale, and follow Ella as she recovers from her mother’s death, tries to deal with her weird mercenary father, gets sent off to finishing school with Hattie and Olive, escapes from finishing school in order to intercept Lucinda at a giant’s wedding and ask her to take her “gift” back, hunts ogres with Prince Char and his knights, and slides down stair rails at the royal palace. It’s only after Ella’s father, financially ruined through his own con artistry, marries Dame Olga and immediately faffs off on a trading mission that Ella is ordered to serve as a scullery maid, against her father’s express wishes, and prevented from seeing Prince Char. Prince Char is a thoroughly delightful love interest and a perfect complement for Ella, he takes his responsibilities as a future leader extremely seriously, and Ella brings out his latent sense of humor. The letters they write each other while he is in Ayortha and Ella is suffering as a scullery maid under Dame Olga will basically spoil you for romance with real humans forever (heartfelt text messages just ain’t the same). Char has his own characterization and backstory and doesn’t so much save Ella as serve as a sort of catalyst for Ella being able to save herself (and the prince and the kingdom, while she’s at it).

I had forgotten that the curse-breaking scene is actually kind of weird; I tend to visualize books in my head like movies, and the final battle (that’s basically what it is) is all in Ella’s head, so I spent a lot of it imagining how strange it must look to everyone else around that Ella’s just, like, having a fit, is what it sounds like. Also I kind of wanted more on-page smackdown of Hattie once the curse was broken, because Hattie is terrible.

I had forgotten that LUCINDA LEARNS TO GIVE GOOD GIFTS AT THE END. LARGELY MEANING THAT THEY ARE PHYSICAL OBJECTS THAT ONE CAN DECIDE WHETHER OR NOT TO USE. So that was a pleasant surprise.

The major theme in the story is the importance of free will and consent, which I think makes it a super valuable book for young persons, but it’s also a good solid fantasy tale of a girl trying to break a dangerous curse and being awesome. I guess I would definitely recommend it for children, but would only recommend it for adults with a warning that it’s very upsetting. There are some ways in which I think children are able to “handle” much heavier stuff in their books than adults, and this book engages a lot of those, apparently? Idunno, all of us who had read it as kids were like “Yeah this is a great fairy tale book, I loved it to bits” and all those who were just coming to it as adults were like “THIS IS MASSIVELY UPSETTING HOW DID YOU SURVIVE CHILDHOOD” so make of that what you will.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Clearly, I need to start paying closer attention to Kindle deals thingies. A fortuitous instance of other people paying attention for me led to me obtaining a two-dollar copy of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. Things I knew about this book beforehand: It has ‘Scorpio’ in the title. Things I knew about the author beforehand: she called one of my friends “beardy fellow” at the Boston Book Festival. For two dollars, this is enough to go on.

The Scorpio Races turned out to be a YA fantasy about killer water horses, which is pretty cool. It takes place on a small island, geographically and temporally vague but seeming sort of midcentury British Isles-y, named Thisby. Thisby is a rough, rocky little place that is plagued by carnivorous horses that live in the ocean, and which frequently come up out of the ocean to eat sheep and sometimes people. Many of the islanders try to capture and sort-of-tame these water horses, called capaill uisce, and every November they race them along the beach. These races are called the Scorpio Races, and they are a big tourist draw, which makes up a big chunk of Thisby’s economy.

Our dual protagonists are Sean Kendrick, a teenage boy who has won several previous Scorpio Races on a blood-red water horse named Corr, and Puck Connolly, a teenage girl who decides to ride in the races out of desperation. Puck is the first girl to every try to run in the races, and, predictably, a lot of people aren’t happy about that. She also decides to ride on her regular horse, Dove, rather than try to tame a water horse. This also ruffles a lot of people’s feathers. Sean thinks Puck is out of her mind to attempt such a thing, but he isn’t threatened/offended and he also admires her bravery. Sean teams up with Puck to help her train and there is a bit of an Obligatory Romance because of course there is.

Puck’s main antagonist is Benjamin Malvern, the wealthiest man on the island, who owns a large horse farm and is also the landlord for Puck’s house. Puck lives with her two brothers, and they have been barely getting by since both of Puck’s parents were killed by wild water horses, but they have fallen way behind on payments on the house, and Puck needs the winning purse to pay off the house or they will be evicted. Puck’s secondary antagonists are all the dudes who are really put out about there being a girl in the races, and who keep trying to bully her out of them.

Sean’s main antagonist is Mutt Malvern, Benjamin Malvern’s son. Sean works for Mr. Malvern at the horse farm, training both regular and water horses. Mutt is both terrible with horses and generally an asshole, and he resents that Sean gets all kinds of respect around the horse farm and around the island in general (and from Mr. Malvern in particular) for, y’know, being good at what he does and winning the races and stuff. Mutt also seems to resent the fact that Sean has basically kept him alive through the last several races, a resentment that festers nastily when paired with denial that Sean has done any such thing. Mutt’s desire to get in Sean’s way becomes tunnel-visioned enough that by the halfway point of the book, he is willing to sacrifice pretty much anything to stick it to Sean, up to and including maiming his own father’s prize horses, because of course wrecking your daddy’s livelihood will make him super proud of you. Sean’s secondary antagonist is Mr. Malvern himself, who refuses to sell him Corr at any price. Sean, inspired by Puck’s nutty bravery, threatens to quit the races and the horse farm unless Mr. Malvern makes a deal—Sean will race, and if he wins, he can buy Corr.

Obviously I am not going to tell you who wins the race but suffice it to say that they cannot both win.

This is one of those books where the real main character is the location. The island of Thisby has a very strong, primal identity, and a great hold over many of its inhabitants. People are either irrevocably tied to it or they can’t wait to get the hell out. Everything about the island is governed by its intense relationship to the water and the water horses—the beach, the tides, the storms, the dangers of emerging capaill uisce. In addition to the tradition of the races, the island has a whole body of traditions surrounding the races—from the decadently sweet November cakes baked only in Thisby (EXCEPT THE BOOK COMES WITH A RECIPE SO YOU CAN MAKE THEM YOURSELF AND THEY SOUND SO GOOD) (IT SOUNDS BETTER THAN QUICK AFTER-BATTLE TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CAKE EVEN, BUT I WILL HAVE TO MAKE SOME TO BE SURE), to the nighttime blood sacrifice to the pagan mare goddess when the riders declare their mounts (but at least nobody has to eat a horse heart).

While I am not a Horse Person and I feel like this book would probably be more captivating to people who are Horse People, Maggie Stiefvater does a great job of communicating Sean and Puck’s attachments to their horses on an emotional/visceral level, so I was able to stay engaged and somewhat empathize with the characters’ attachments to their horses. (Same goes with Thisby, actually; being trapped on an insular, isolated, rainy-ass little island with a bunch of horses and sheep and the continual danger of being eaten sounds like literally my own personal hell, but I bought it while I was reading.) I was kept guessing about how the race was going to turn out, and I thought the ending pulled it all together well. I liked that the book was a little bit sweet and a little bit funny and a big bit creepy and weird. While the bits involving the actual racing of crazy fairy horses that eat people were obviously what one would class as action scenes, I liked that a lot of the plot was a bit… quieter, dealing in gossip and money and tourists and domestic life stuff like that. I think Stiefvater actually hit the perfect balance between regular small-town drama and KILLER FAIRY HORSES, for maximum atmospherics and tension.

I am definitely planning on checking out her other stuff, hopefully soon. But first, I must make November cakes!
 
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
Malinda Lo is one of those authors that I found through other authors on social media, where she said all sorts of smart things about diversity and YA and social justice and I was like, this lady sounds cool, maybe her books are cool too! So that is why I bought a copy of Huntress.
Huntress takes place in what is largely a familiar sort of pseudo-medieval fantasy land, but with strong Asian influences. For example, the ruling and most humanoid sort of fairies in the fairy realm are known as the Xi… pronounced “Shee”, the same way that the terms for Celtic faeries  “Sidhe” or sometimes “Seelie” are pronounced, except it’s spelled “Xi”, which is exactly how that syllable is typically transliterated from Chinese. I am a language dork and I think this is SUPER COOL.
The premise of the story is that nature has mysteriously gotten all out of balance, with the sun not rising and the crops failing and it being sort of a dreary chilly temperature regardless of what time of year it is, when the human king receives an invitation from the long-unheard-from fairy queen. Hoping the invitation has something to do with the changed climate, the King, in conjunction with the Academy of Sages, which is the awesome all-female (I think) magic school that also seems to have a sort of monastic/nunnery thing going on, kick off a fantasy/adventure quest plot. The questers in this plot include three guards (one of whom is a badass lady guard named Shae), the crown prince Con, and our dual protagonists, Kaede and Taisin. Taisin is the most magically gifted student at the Academy, and she’s been having visions of Kaede getting into a rowboat on an icy beach. Kaede is pretty much the least magically gifted student at the Academy; she has instead been spending her time doing gardening and learning knife throwing and basically doing every awesome non-magical thing she can find to do until she becomes badass. The two girls have to figure out how to combine their very different strengths into order to save the world, and also they fall in love. (Con and badass lady guard Shae also fall in love and they are super cute.)
I’m trying not to describe this book using words like “standard” or anything like that because it makes it sound unimaginative, and it’s not really. But… in a number of ways, it’s one particular type of story: a fantasy-adventure-romance in which teenage intrepid heroes come of age and save the world and fall in love; it’s a genre/story outline/thing that is basically my favorite and it works very well and it can be reimagined and retold a million times without getting old, when it’s filled up with different characters and different worlds and different threats and plot twists and stuff. And it’s a pretty enjoyable, entertaining, solid example of that kind of story, maybe not the most twisty in terms of blindsiding plot twists that I’ve ever read (I have read some books that totally turn the plot inside out every couple chapters), but it’s a very good example of this particular type of story. And this is a type of story that never, ever seems to have gay protagonists. It’s more and more common to be able to find gay protagonists these days—but it seems to stay strictly in literary fiction, contemporary realistic sort of stuff, and almost every story with gay protagonists I’ve ever read has been a story primarily about being gay. This is why I rarely read fiction with gay protagonists, because I really have a low tolerance for reading more than a few books that are primarily about romance or sexuality per year. Fantasy and science fiction, particularly YA SF/F, seems to be getting better at having more secondary characters who are LGBT, even viewpoint characters in books as long as they’re fairly ensemble-cast-y stories, but it still seems like there are stories about gay people being gay, and then there are stories about straight people saving the world from magic curses/evil overlords/invading aliens (sometimes with their gay friends in tow). Huntress might be the first book I’ve ever read that is just straight up about lesbians saving the world from dark magic. And I think that is pretty cool! I would love to see a LOT more books like this, books about saving the world and about solving crimes and about fighting aliens and about discovering long-lost treasure or whatever, where the main romantic subplot isn’t het. (For now, though… there are apparently a few other Malinda Lo books I haven’t read yet! And there is Welcome to Night Vale.) Anyway, Taisin and Kaede’s romance is believable and touching, and even though they don’t end up together at the end due to the monastic element of Taisin’s chosen career, neither of them dies or becomes evil or any of those terrible tropes.
I do think this book could have used some tighter editing; there were a couple of instances of word conflation (“disinterested” for “uninterested”; “free reign”), and there were several instances of mid-scene POV switches, which I always find jarring even though I’ve seen it in a number of novels now. I also found the scene where they were attacked by wolves slightly jarring—while I’m aware that “wolves are bad and they attack people because that’s just what they do” is a common fantasy tropes, my own particular reading history means that I’ve read very, very few books that have actually used that trope at is, whereas I’ve read several books that take more favorable and complex views of wolves. And since this is a book that does a lot to deliberately stay out of other old tropes and takes a much more thoughtful view of a lot of “default” issues in fantasy books—the “Huntress” does a lot of thinking about the moral implications of killing anyone or anything, even for the right reasons; violence is never treated as Awesome Happy Glorious Time even when it’s clearly needed—I was much more surprised than I would have been otherwise that the wolf attack thing was just played straight.
Overall, though, I did like it a lot, and I will probably be picking up Malinda Lo’s other stuff in the future, and if you like YA adventure fantasy things and are not a bigot douchebag, then I would certainly recommend Huntress. It has Action! Romance! Magic! Fairies! And a bonus unicorn near the end!
bloodygranuaile: (we named the monkey jack)
I'm still too scarred from Les Mis to read any grown-up books, so instead I read a children's book that seemed vaguely like The Sort of Thing I Like: Catherynne M. Valente's The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland, it turns out, is a lot of the sorts of things I like, and it is things I like to such a degree that it was occasionally a bit much, but overall I had a very good time reading it. It's written in a very deliberately cute and faux-Victorian style, mimicking the tone of classic children's lit books like Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, which is a little bit odd since it takes place in the World War II era and was written, y'know... two years ago. But I like a little bit of faux-Victorian whimsy and so I decided to just roll with it, which I think was a good choice, because it really is a charming story.

The book is about a twelve-year-old girl named September, who lives in Omaha with her mother, a mechanic, while her father is in the Army. One day the Green Wind comes and takes September off to Fairyland to have adventures. After going through a lot of whimsical bureaucracy, September finds herself on a quest to recover a witch's magical Spoon, which had been stolen by the evil Marquess who rules Fairyland. The Marquess is a little girl who has been introducing all sorts of real-world no-fun things like laws and taxes and bureaucracy and order to Fairyland, after having killed the beloved old Queen, Good Queen Mallow. September picks up a few traveling companions, including a Wyverary (half Wyvern, half Library) named A-through-L and a Marid (a sort of mermaidy creature with an odd relationship with Time, who can grant wishes when bested in a battle) named Saturday. After obtaining the Spoon from the Marquess, the Marquess badgers September into going on another Quest, this time for Good Queen Mallow's magic sword, which is not always in the shape of a sword, but is a powerful weapon nonetheless. We're pretty sure something nefarious is going on here and that this particular Quest is not a good idea, and September's adventures get a bit grittier as she both tries to complete the quest and tries to figure out what precisely she's doing and why precisely it's a bad idea for her to be doing it and, of course, how to get out of it without the Marquess cutting off her head.

While the style of the book is almost painfully small-children-y and old-fashioned, the story itself deals with some more modern and more advanced themes than Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland do. September is a pretty awesome heroine, and her adventures make her wrestle with all sorts of ideas about home and family and government and friendship and belonging, and the twist at the end brings up some serious questions about goodness and evil and blame--the Marquess' backstory, there are some serious twists there, and it is basically THE MOST sympathetic villain backstory--and also many of the most important characters are ladies, which I like. (There are some pretty awesome secondary characters who are ladies too, like the Faerie woman who wrangles wild velocipedes for a living.) (They say "velocipede" instead of "bicycle" because it's cute and fancy that way.) In the second half of the book, her adventures get a little darker and grittier than in Victorian novels--she really does have to build a ship herself and circumnavigate Fairyland in it, and it ain't pretty.

Apparently some people have compared this book to The Phantom Tollbooth, which I think is probably a pretty apt in a "If you like X, you may like Y" kind of way.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
I reread Tithe, just like I said I was going to! I'm surprisingly proud of myself for this, which just goes to show how much my head has gone to pieces after reading Les Mis.

I still don't think this series is as good as the Curse Workers series, but this is just because I think the Curse Workers series is one of the most brilliant things in YA fantasy. Tithe is extremely good, and I'm pretty sure that some of my earlier negative response to it was that Kaye's life is so utterly different from my own at that age and her personality is so different from mine that I had a hard time relating to her. Now that I'm slightly better at not reading books through the lens of It's All About Me (unless the character actually is a pale upper-middle-class bookish brunette, because there are specific things that are almost always done with that particular archetype...), I like it a lot better.

I also forgot that I actually really like Roiben as a character. He's a knight with a lot of pain and violence in his past and he's pretty grim a lot of the time but he doesn't really fit into the Tough Guy on the Outside/Wounded Bunny on the Inside jackass archetype that infests so much romance. He's just a dude trying to be the best person he can be even though his will essentially belongs to crazy people, and he resents the fuck out of it.

I don't know if I remembered them from last time or if they were just really easy, but I guessed all the riddles pretty quickly. :( I tend to feel this means they are easy riddles, because I'm pretty sure I actually kind of suck at riddles! But maybe I'm getting better.

This here be the end of my utterly disjointed thinky-thoughts on this series.
bloodygranuaile: (oh noes)
That was a Terry Pratchett quote. I am not, however, reviewing Pratchett books (note to self: Catch up on Pratchett books). I am reviewing books about fairies!

I read Holly Black's Valiant and Ironside, having read Tithe in high school. I should probably have reread Tithe before reading these, particularly since I have a (signed!) copy, but I didn't.

Valiant made sense without remembering much about Tithe, since very few of the characters overlap--Roiben makes a brief appearance at one point, but most of it's about a different set of people. The main character, Val, runs away from home after she finds out that her boyfriend is having an affair with her mother (GROSS). Val runs away to New York and falls in with some homeless kids who are squatting somewhere in the subway system. One of the kids, Luis, has the Sight, and so the group of them are now all involves with what is basically the faerie exile community. NYC is not really faerie territory because there's too much iron, so it's where all the exiles have to go, until they die of iron-sickness. Luis (and occasionally his fucked-up brother, David) mostly run favors for a troll dude who makes potions that help keep iron-sickness at bay. David and the girl in the group, Lolli, also have an odd habit of skimming bits of faerie potion and then using it as a drug, which they call Never, which basically gives them glamour powers. Val starts running errands too when she runs up a debt with the troll, Ravus. When the faeries Ravus delivers too start dying, Ravus is the prime suspect--but Val has her doubts (partly because she is in love with Ravus, and I'm like, awesomesauce, a romance with a troll, that one is new!), and has to get deeper into the world of Faerie intrigue and craziness to find out who the murderer really is and prove it to the Faerie courts.

Ironside contains characters from both Tithe and Valiant, and was a bit confusing for me, because I had basically forgotten everything about Tithe except that Kaye was really a pixie and Roiben was her love interest and now some sort of Faerie king. But anyway, so it turns out Roiben is getting coronated as King of the Night Court, which is the creepier one, and Silarial, the Queen of the Bright Court, which is still pretty creepy, is planning to declare war on them. Roiben is originally from the Bright Court and used to be in love with the Queen until he realized what a totally terrible person she is. Kaye ill-advisedly engages in a fairy ritual where she declares her love for Roiben publicly and he has to send her on a quest, and he sends her on an impossible one (to find a fairy who can tell an untruth). Kaye and her friend Cornelius (who is secretly trying to avenge his sister who was murdered by a kelpie) and Luis from Valiant all team up to deliver the real (human) Kaye back to her mother, and wind up entangled in the Bright Queen's weird game to defeat Roiben. Kaye and her friends have to figure out Silarial's plan and warn Roiben, in addition to completing the impossible quest and a bunch of other twisty things.

I really liked both of these books; I like them more than I remember liking Tithe, even, so maybe I will have to go give Tithe a reread sometime soon, and see if it really is weaker or if I was just being put off by the characters being not enough like me or something stupid. (I have a feeling it may well have been that.)

Thus concludes my booklogging for 2012! Yes, I know we're almost a week into 2013; shut up. Next up will be dithering about Les Misérables.
bloodygranuaile: (sociability)
So, when you were kids, did any of you read any of the Color Fairy Book anthologies, edited by Andrew Lang, and supposedly also his wife but she didn't get any credit because Victorians?

This week I finished rereading The Orange Fairy Book and it was just as charming, pat, and ridiculous as I remembered. While the tales are rather cleaned up (at least three versions of Cinderella and none of them have people cutting bits of their feet off), they are still a lot of fun, and the illustrations are gorgeous. There are dozens of tales in each book, even though the books aren't very long, because some of the selections are so short.

The most impressive thing about this series is how global its reach it; The Orange Fairy Book features tales from all sorts of cultures instead of just the usual French, English and German ones that US kids tend to hear about--this edition features several Berber fairy stories and ends with a handful of charming Lapp tales about ogres. The stories all have citations at the ends, so you can get a sense of where the Langs did their research--some are from anthologies of specific culture's myths; others are culled from anthropology journals or acquired by direct interview.

Since there are so many unconnected stories in this volume I find I have little else to say about the book as a whole, except that it has left me with a newfound appreciation for Finnish ogre stories. SO AWESOME.
bloodygranuaile: (sociability)
So, somehow, I cannot actually remember which Jane Yolen books I read and which I did not when I was a small child, but I vaguely remember that she was cool. And so when I saw Once Upon A Time (She Said) at the Boston Book Festival, I bought it!

This book is a collection of poems, short stories, essays, and other miscellany, including a set of footnotes to a paper that isn't included. They are all at least tangentially fairy tales or about fairy tales. There are many references to the role of Andrew Lang's Coloured Fairy Books anthologies in her childhood, which brought back some fond memories of my own of checking out The Red Fairy Book and The Blue Fairy Book (er, those may have been all that my library had, I think) over and over again. They were terribly bowdlerized books, but they were adorably quaint and certainly better than Disney.

Anyway! Jane Yolen has some hilarious critiques of the degeneration of children's stories over the years, including some very satisfying (for me) potshots at Disney. She has a couple of original fairy tales, and a couple of amazing retold fairy tales, and a couple of tales that are sort of in between. While some of the writing is serious, her essays are all hilarious.

I can't really give a critique of this book as a whole because the only things that tie it all together is that all pieces are by Jane Yolen, all pieces are somehow related to fairy tales, and all of them are pretty good.

The only negative thing I have to say about it is that it is terribly, terribly proofread. There are typos on almost every page. If I ever reread it I might have to mark it all up. But I will try and avoid doing that because then I would be faced with the dilemma of whether or not it would be hugely bitchy to send my marked-up copy back to the publishing house. >.>

Erm. Sorry.
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
In continuation of my attempt to finally get around to reading the ARC's my mother picked up for me at a book fair in 2007 (because when I'm off the job, what I really want to be doing is reading unproofed copies of things!), I read Tara Bray Smith's Betwixt.  

Betwixt... um... fits its title, I think. The word "betwixt" is a perfectly serviceable adjective, although at this point in the evolution of the English language, the only reason to use it instead of saying "between" is to add extra atmosphere, and your chances of successfully adding extra atmosphere instead of just sounding cheesy and insufferable are highly dependent on doing everything else exactly right. So, Betwixt basically has all the ingredients of a Holly Black novel, but they are a bit... mashed together, kind of. It's definitely a "people who like this sort of thing will find it the sort of thing they like" kind of book, because the plot and characterization aren't quite strong or original enough to hook someone who isn't already just like "I like teenagers and fairies and angst and unnecessarily dark things; I will take them intravenously if possible." There's a bunch of pseudosciencey stuff for people who like their fantasy pseudoscienced up (it is heavy on the pseudo. The whole second half of the book is basically Viv being like "ENERGY, ALSO GENETICS, ALSO ENERGY. COSMIC ENERGY. DID I SAY ENERGY ALREADY? AND DON'T FORGET GENETICS. COSMIC ENERGY GENETICS") I really wanted to hear more about the rest of the way the whole fae thing on Earth worked in this book (like the linna or limma or whatever other training the guides are supposed to help them learn) and less about cosmic universe energy (with extra genetics). The characterization is a little off, particularly the character of Moth--he is introduced as basically being a big creepy slimeball which is why it is surprising and annoying to the other characters that he is their fae mentor thingy; however, after about halfway through the book he completely stops being a big creepy slimeball, and when he becomes a viewpoint character his viewpoint does not have any sleazy thoughts at all, nor does it address his history of hitting on underage girls at all, even when he is being ruminatory about his past. 

I found the story engaging enough while I was reading it, but I wasn't very happy with the ending. I don't think this book is a series yet but they basically leave it wide open for a Part II, because otherwise it is just one of those annoying books that has no ending because it just doesn't, and that is deep and realistic, SO THERE. Like, you don't have to wrap everything up with a bow like an 18th century romance, but Nix is like stuck in an ocean somewhere in an alternate dimension; there is a lot more story there. 

I also basically wanted this story to be better because it's relatively rare to have a story where two of the three main characters are people of color and it's not like A Multiculturalism Story. Nix is Inuit and his family has dealt with a lot of shit because of that, but his magic powers have approximately nothing to do with mystical Native American spirituality nature stuff at all, which is kind of rare in any book containing both magic and Native Americans. Ondine is black and gets the same treatment other YA main characters get of being described in pointlessly flowery terms (she has "cinnamon" skin and there are a few mentions of braided/treated hair) instead of explicitly identified by race, at least until the end where all sorts of lineage and genetics stuff becomes important. 

Nix' particular type of magic is that he is a "ringer," because all magic systems have funny lexicons, which frankly is one of my favorite parts of reading fantasy. However, "Ringer" is also a term for hugely nerdy LotR fans, so I kept laughing at it.

What's sad is I think this could have been a really, REALLY good fantasy book if Smith had had a much tougher editor. There's a great story in there, it's just told a bit... amateurishly. The issues are all ones of pacing, tone, continuity, and exposition, and those can all be fixed without needing to cook up a substantially different story. 
bloodygranuaile: (wall wander)
And I mean that in the best way possible, by which I mean I am referring to Laini Taylor's Faeries of Dreamdark. They are the best fookin' fairies. Ever. They would probably say "fookin'" too, if they were not in a YA series, as they have awesome accents. As it is, they mostly say "skiving."

I read Dreamdark: Blackbringer when it was first published in 2007. I wrote a brief review that was mostly incoherent squeeing about how it was so much better than anything by Holly Black, reigning queen of bringing Faerie back, which is saying something, considering that I basically want to be Holly Black when I grow up. Laini Taylor's husband, Jim DiBartolo, left a nice comment on my review, because at the time there were like two reviews of this book on the whole Internet, I discovered Dreamdark that early.

So what the hell took me so long to get around to reading Dreamdark: Silksinger? Had I gotten my fill of Faerie through Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely series, or through writing my own story about fairies that I will totally totally finish one day? No! It cannot be that, for I can never get my fill of fairies, which I suppose also begs the question of why I'm a few books behind on Marr's series too.

There is no satisfactory answer. Mostly I was just really broke for a long time, and also I'm kind of stupid about buying books. I sometimes get so distracted buying the ones in front of my face that I forget to buy the ones I want specifically off the Internet.

At any rate, Blackbringer, if I recall correctly, was about a badass fairy named Magpie Windwitch, who fights demons that have escaped from their bottles (usually let out by stupid humans who think they're genies or something stupid), hangs out with some awesome crows with awesome Scottish accents, and eventually has to save the world from the Blackbringer, a thingy that wants to basically devour the world. Magpie also becomes a Djinn's champion, because in this universe, the Djinn wove the tapestry of the world, and have I mentioned it's been freakin' ages since I've read a story with a proper scary fucking DJINN in it?

That's all I can say on that right now; I really need to give Blackbringer a reread.

The sequel, Silksinger, is primarily about three badass fairies: Magpie is still one of them. The other one is Hirik Mothmage, a member of the infamous Mothmage clan, who supposedly did something Very Very Very Bad several thousand years ago (you will have to read to find out what!) and have been exiled from faerie civilization because everyone hates them that fucking much. (Being a Mothmage is like having your last name be "Hitler", basically.) Hirik is bent on becoming a Djinn's champion like Magpie, and clearing his family's name by exposing that they were framed. The third main character is Whisper Silksinger, the last remaining member of the Silksinger clan, a family of "scamperer" fairies (their wings aren't big enough for them to fly) whose special power is the ability to control fiber via singing. This mostly means they make beautiful, extremely expensive flying carpets of silk. (It also means that Whisper never needs to comb her hair, since she can sing the knots out.) The Silksingers are the keepers of the Azazel, one of the Djinn that wove the tapestry of the world. Like all the Djinn except the one whom Magpie became the champion of in the last book, this Djinn is asleep, collapsed into a single ember. Whisper is trying to guard him and get him to his temple at Nazneen so she can wake him up; at the same time, Hirik is trying to find him so he can become his champion, Magpie is trying to find him because she is trying to find and wake all the Djinn, and a ridiculously old evil fairy known through most of the book just as "Master" is trying to marshal an army of devils so that he can become immortal and take over the world and all that supervillain stuff.

This plot is sort of secondary to the totally awesome worldbuilding and character development. The Scottish crows are still ten kinds of adorable and awesome, and Taylor does a really good job of conjuring up a really wide variety of devils out of bits and pieces of mythological and biological oddities. There are scary ones with poisonous tails and tarantula legs, and there harmless slave devils ("snags") that are basically rubbery bits of loser in hermit crab shells. Other characters are winds, or hobgoblins, or scavenger imps, and the hobs and faeries ride dragonflies instead of horses. Somehow, none of this is ever cheesy. Humans, when they are around, are seen as more of a destructive force of nature than as characters, like tornadoes or the woolly mammoths in the Thursday Next books. Magic is also frequently performed through the writing or envisioning of glyphs, which I think is a pretty awesome way to do it. Overall, the books perfectly strike that elusive balance between originality and mythology that makes for really good fantasy--you recognize, at least in part, almost all of the tropes--we've all seen the words djinn, faerie, imp, hobgoblin, and devil before, and we've got a basic idea of what they mean; we're all familiar with the ideas of writing magic, singing magic, and weaving/string/cloth-based magic; we've all heard of winds being personified--but Taylor manages to do something new and fresh with each one of them: the djinn made the world; the faeries are the most civilized creatures ever on the planet; devils are trapped in bottles so they don't wreak havoc in the afterlife and only humans can release them. Also: firedrakes.

I recommend this series HIGHLY to anyone who likes faeries, fantasy, epic things, YA adventure stories with well-developed female leads, very modern stories with strong backgrounds in mythological nerdery, and/or Gaelic-flavored accents.

In other news: I promised Nightwish videos with this bookblog!


"Nemo," because I don't feel like looking for a Nightwish song specifically about fairies (I am sure they have lots though!) and this one's been stuck in my head lately.
bloodygranuaile: (Default)
Oh God, I needed this book so badly.

This is one of those books in a little trend in the YA fantasy world of writing fairy stories that draw on the old fairy myths--the ones where fairy courts are actually powerful and dangerous, and where fairies are the size of people and have glamour magic and weather control. None of this Tinkerbell shit.

This is a trend I like a lot.

Also, there's a blurb from Tamora Pierce on the back cover, and Tamora Pierce is my favorite writer of fantasy adventure stories with kick-ass heroines, liek EVAR, so I knew that, at the very least, this would be a nice antidote to all this Twilight shit that's been invading my brain lately. And it was, even more than I imagined--where the Twilight Saga is all about being magically destined to fall in luv with people, Wicked Lovely maintains that even in the face of all sorts of destiny and fate shit, and being magically transformed into a fairy just because some obsessive fairy king thinks you're the Summer Queen and "once you've been chosen you can't be unchosen" and "THERE ARE RULES!!!" and blah blah blah, your reactions, choices, and opinions on things are all up to you. It is inevitable that Aislinn becomes the Summer Queen, but she manages to do it on her own terms anyway, which includes having only a friendly and professional relationship with the Summer King, because she'll be damned if she gives up her mortal boyfriend who's actually nice and supportive and things for that bossy douchewagon Keenan just because she's fated to be his Queen. She decides its her *job*. She pays attention to detail and displays "outside-the-box thinking," as well as determination (I think of this as "love smarter, not harder," and it tends to be the biggest factor in whether or not I support a romance (It's also something I should learn myself one of these days, but that's another story)).

It felt like Bella choosing Jacob, or something. It said that if the supernatural wants to pick up modern human chicks, it needs to deal with the century the humans are living in, and being a bajillion years old is no excuse. It said that being supportive is more important than having shiny magic powers. It said that fate can go fuck itself. It was SO REFRESHING.

Beira is also a great villianess, of the archetype EBIL ICE QUEEN BWA HA HA. She is not only ebil, but also quirky and obnoxious. You just have to love a villian who inspires both fear, via killing people and animals and making you painfully cold all the time, and also annoyance, because she dresses up as a fifties housewife when you come to visit and you KNOW SHE'S REALLY EVIL WOULD SHE STOP PRETENDING TO BE NICE PLZ. AND THOSE PEARLS LOOK STUPID.

My favorite character would still have to be Donia, the Summer King's last guess at who the Summer Queen was, now transformed into the Winter Girl. She's complicated, because she used to be human and is now a fairy; used to love the Summer King and now still does but also hates him 'cos this whole mess is his fault; and is aligned with Winter and in the Winter Queen's thrall but her preferred loyalties are still with the Summer Court. Her job is to convince Keenan's girlfriends to not take the test to see if they're the Summer Queen, although if they do, they take her role as the Winter Girl and she is freed from the cold curse business and gets to be a regular faery. So she is all sorts of conflicted. She's also genuinely kind of nice and awesome.

I feel so much better now.

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