Tag Archives: Fantasy

Question for Our Readers: Fantasy Going Mainstream

23 Sep

“The Golden Age of Science Fiction is twelve.”

-David Hartwell

I heard it proposed the other day that therefore the Golden Age of Fantasy is also twelve. However, some have said the Golden Age of Fantasy, in a less abstract sense, is right now.

Fantasy as a genre has become far more mainstream in the past few years. From Harry Potter mania, to Twilight diehards, to Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and the HBO adaption of the Game of Thrones series, fantasy has definitely experienced an increase in popularity. But is ‘going mainstream’ bad for the genre?

Do you think that Fantasy is losing the quality it once had, or is the quality, along with the quantity, increasing? What trends in modern Fantasy are you in love with? What trends to do you despise?

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Beasts, Monsters and Eldritch Abominations

25 Jul

A lot of fantasy worlds tend to be populated by the same sorts of creatures: dwarfs, trolls, giants, elves, things that look like elves but are called something else to show you that they’re not your typical elves and are possibly speshul, etc. It can be fun to play around with these standards, like giving your own twist to vampires or mermaids, but it can be even more interesting to find an obscure creature or to create your own. If you want to make your own fantasy world, you’re going to need more than a few old standbys as well to give it enough complexity to make it believable.

One source to look at for inspiration is folklore. Folklore is the origin in one way or another of most of our traditional monsters, like vampires and werewolves, but there is far more variation on these creatures in the original stories. Can your vampires cross running water? Or do they have to be beheaded and buried at a crossroads to stay dead? It depends on which area your vampire tales come from. In particular I like creatures from American folklore. Books of folklore are a handy source too, along with folklore journals. If you’re still in college or have access to academic journals, there are whole journals devoted to folklore studies. There’s also an encyclopedia of American folklore and a dictionary of English folklore.

Extinct animals are great for adding flavor to a new world. Mammoths, cave bears, and saber-toothed lions are recognizable enough that they don’t need explanation but extinct so they immediately let your reader know they’re dealing with a slightly different world. Moa, flightless birds bigger than ostriches, and giant sloths are odder. While something like a Paraceratherium, a long-necked hornless rhino bigger than any mammoth, or a tasmanian tiger would need some explaining but add depth and detail to a new world.

And for the terrifying and bizarre I’d suggest looking at the world’s oceans, especially those animals that lived with or before the dinosaurs, or at bugs. For example, the sea creatures from the Cambrian look particularly alien: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anomalocarid. Of course you don’t have to go for species that have been extinct for millions of years to get inspiration. Tube worms, jellyfish, and deep sea crabs are strange creatures that could give rise to plenty of nightmare fuel if used properly.

However, you want to be sure you have the right sort of creatures for your setting. Horror can get away with almost anything because monsters in horror don’t need a reason to exist. They are just there to be scary. On the other hand, for sci-fi and fantasy the point is usually to create a congruous world where the various elements fit together to make a setting that feels complete and real (according to its own rules). Essentially, don’t have a swamp monster living in a desert, unless you put it in an oasis. Similarly, don’t have a dark forest filled with only predators, they’ll end up going hungry. But it’s fine to make the things they eat dangerous too.

And finally, it’s always good to over prepare. Just look at J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She has tons of magical creatures that don’t appear in the Harry Potter series. But should she want to write about Ron and Hermione taking the kids on a vacation to any part of the world, she already has the creatures that they’d encounter there. The more you have worked out beforehand, the less chance you have of things seeming slapped together or incongruous. So go ahead and start working on a bestiary.

What’s the strangest creature you’ve come up with, or your favorite published monster?

Book Recommendation: Blue Fire

18 Mar

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

~~~

“Responsibility was overrated.”

Sequels have the ability to both scare and excite me. I suppose on the one hand, I worry that I won’t love the sequel as much as the first book. But on the other hand, I’m always excited; because the world and the characters and the story I love is continuing. I’m able to be transported back to that place; and when I enjoy a book, it’s always a pleasure to find myself immersed in its world once more.

Blue Fire, the second book in Janice Hardy’s middle-grade The Healing Wars trilogy, is a great sequel. If you haven’t yet read The Shifter, the first book in the series, I suggest you check out my review of it (and then go and pick it up if it sounds like your kind of story). This is a great high-fantasy for readers young and old.

Want to know more? Here’s a summary from HarperCollins:


Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

~~~

The story starts right where the last book left off; but with everyone in hiding now as a result of what occurred at the end of The Shifter. Nya knows that she and all the other healers will never be safe unless they find a way to stop the Duke; but the first step in stopping someone is figuring out what exactly they’re trying to do. With trackers on her tail, Nya realizes that she must flee Geveg and ends up in the last place she wants to be: Baseer.

The things I loved from the fist book carry over to this one as well. Hardy has once again written a well-paced and action-filled story, full of difficult choices that push against moral issues. While I did feel at times that Nya’s thoughts were too repetitive and heavy-handed at times, Hardy doesn’t over do it. Nya’s loyalty is put to the test when it comes to the choices of the good of one over the good of many. And she is still the strong, determined, and likable heroine from the first book. But this time, death and killing become something she must consider more and more.

I really loved the descriptions and culture Hardy put into Baseer – it is full of life and colour and energy, and fills Nya with a sense of disgust as well as wonder. The fine line between the hatred of your oppressors and the realization that even the oppressors are oppressed was one of my favourite aspects of Blue Fire.

Nya isn’t alone on this journey. She is accompanied by many, and befriends many more along the way. And while Nya’s friendships are believable, the romantic relationship between her and Danello wasn’t. It was lacking the spark and chemistry I was hoping for, but fortunately their romance isn’t a focal point of the story. With so much else going on, it was easy to get swept back up in the story.

One of my favourite surprises in the book centers around Nya and Onderaan, a man leading an underground rebellion force – a relationship that is revealed to be a major plot development. Unfortunately, their relationship fell a little flat – it wasn’t as dynamic or as fleshed out as it could’ve been. My only hope is that their relationship will be worked on in more depth in the third book.

The climax of this book was by far one of the most exciting and interesting parts of the book – with so much build-up to an epic fight, I was delighted. And the end of the book was so dark, and intense, that it left me wishing I could have book 3 in my hands already. This is a middle grade series that is definitely a great read. If you liked the first book, or enjoy high fantasy and lots of fast-paced action, then this book is for you.

~

ARC received from publisher

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also geeks out over stuff at Something Geeky.

Book Recommendation: Finnikin of the Rock

13 Mar

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”

Before I begin, let me preface this by saying that I’m about to gush. A lot.

Melina Marchetta is a writing goddess; that is what I think now that I’ve finished this book. Her first foray into fantasy is not a light one; it is deep, and dark, and hauntingly beautiful. And I honestly think that the book I’ve just put down is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

You won’t often hear me saying that. The majority of books I read (and I tend to read one book a week) leave me feeling disappointed; they were either too light and airy and fluffy, or had characters I couldn’t connect with, or had a plot with too many inconsistencies, or was too predictable – really, the list goes on and on. And then I tend to find a book that surpasses my expectations, or completely surprises me – and I jump at the chance to let everyone know how much I loved it. But Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock has made even some of the books I love pale in comparison.

Simply put, it was pure brilliance.

I don’t even know where to start – but I guess the best place is with a summary from Goodreads:

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere.

And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne.

And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

~

This is a story about one young man’s quest to save his homeland; the story about a people – a country torn apart – coming together to unite once again; a love-story so dark and intense and confusing that it will, at times, leave you with an aching heart. Finnikin’s quest leads him on a road that will eventually take him back to the place he belongs in; the place taken away by invasion and dark magic. But his path isn’t easy – it is grim and dire, and yet he is able to find hope through Evanjalin – hope in the belief that Prince Balthazar is alive and that they will be able to return home. What is so brilliant about this novel is how it looks at humanity and suffering, and how Finnikin comes across people who have faced oppression and cruelty. Some of these people are broken already; but others still have hope, even though their world is crumbling at their feet. There is the belief that they will be led back to the place that belongs to them; that they will once again have a home, and be among those they unwillingly left behind. There is the belief that the false king will be dethroned, and that the true King of Lumatere will be crowned once again; that the curse will be lifted. But nothing is quite as it seems, and Evanjalin will test and manipulate Finnikin. And Finnikin, in return, will end up finding himself struggling to accept his destiny.

For an author who has never written in the fantasy genre before, she is great at it. Her world-building is fantastic – it is full of depth and history and culture and religion and political intrigue. And magic! This is a world with substance – a place that feels so extraordinarily real in its fantastical way. Coupled with her beautiful prose, you’ll find yourself relishing her every sentence.

But Marchetta’s greatest strength lies in her characters. This is a writer who understands the complexities of human nature and relationships; of heartache and doubt and uncertainty. She is able to make her characters live and breathe. Her characters are not easy to understand; and they are not always likable. There are times when they are so infuriating, when you find them lying and harming one another to the point of disgust; and yet somehow, their realness will creep into your hearts. They are some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. These are characters willing to risk everything for what they believe in, even if their beliefs are not always the same. And you will want to root for them; you will genuinely want them to prevail, to find happiness. And Evanjalin? She is brilliance. If there ever was a character whose motivations and actions are dubious, and whose thoughts are complex and confusing, she is it. She, like Finnikin, is not weak. While they both have moments of weakness and unease, they are not by any means powerless. She is strong-willed and capable, resourceful and manipulative, and very much determined; moreso than any other character. And it is her determination, and her strength, that propels everyone forward towards their destinies. She is the key to Prince Balthazar; the catalyst to Finnikin and the role he plays in bringing their people together.

There may not be huge epic battles or constant sword-fighting occurring throughout, but that isn’t to say that there aren’t any great fight scenes: there are. And when they happen, they are satisfying. But the book focuses more on the internal battles the characters face, and the obstacles they find in their lack of trust in one another.

As for the romance, I adored every minute of it. The connection was real, as was their chemistry. But if you’re looking for a romance with lots kissing and love triangles and fluffy sweetness, you won’t find it here. This is a romance of the epic kind – a romance between two people meant to be together, and who struggle not only with themselves, but with each other.

So yes, I loved this book. There is so much more I could say, but I’m not sure it would actually be helpful, as it would only involve me gushing adoringly over all the other characters and plot twists in this book. But I do hope you decide to pick this up. In fact, I think you should definitely pick it up. Is this the type of book for someone who isn’t into dark fantasy? Maybe not. But if you like fantasy, this is a must-read. If you love beautiful prose, this is a must-read. If you love dark, complicated stories, this is a must-read. If you like characters who are the most complex, infuriating, flawed, brave, and interesting, then this book is a must-read. If you are looking for a love story full of passionate embraces and constant physical contact, you will not find that here; but what you will find is a romance that blossoms from more than just the physical; a romance that is deep and satisfying and true. If you are looking for an epic story that is thought-provoking, this is it. Marchetta’s book is up there for me with the works of Philip Pullman, Garth Nix, Tamora Pierce, Margaret Atwood, and William Nicholson – all favourite authors of mine.

So if you listen to me and decide to only pick up one book I recommended, this is the one. You will not be disappointed.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also geeks out over at Something Geeky.

Self-Indulgent Fantasies: Funny, but Not Appropriate

2 Mar

by Susan Dennard

~~

Once upon a time, there was a really beautiful girl with LOTS of money. Her name was Susan, and she was super popular.  Everyone wanted to be her, but she was nice, so everyone liked her too.  She fell in love with a handsome Frenchman.

Oh, and she could fly and turn invisible.

Oh! And Sam Worthington wanted to go out with her, but since she was already married to the wonderful Frenchman, she had to turn him down.  He still sends her flowers and chocolates, regularly…and they like to hang out.

Okay, okay, enough.  If you don’t want to gag yet, you should.  Just writing that triggered severe gag-reflex in me.  Sure, that may be My Ultimate Fantasy, but it’s not a story.  It’s really not something I should share with people either, methinks.

The point is this: YOUR FANTASIES ARE PRIVATE AND SHOULD NOT BE THE CORE OF YOUR STORIES.

Fan fiction is one thing, as Savannah explains very well here, but original fiction is quite another.  You need to distance yourself from self-indulgent drivel.

And here’s why:

When we write our fantasies out, there’s never enough conflict.  Perhaps there’s no character conflict (notice that Susan above is an obnoxious Mary Sue), or maybe there is no plot conflict (um, there is no resistance to Susan’s love story with the Frenchie) or maybe it’s just all-around cheesy (yes, my fantasy definitely has a lot of CHEESE).  No matter what, the problem is private fantasies have no conflict, and without conflict, the story is of no interest to the reader.

Now, of course, you can use parts of your daydreams in your novel.  Or you can draw inspiration from your fantasies.  Gosh, the kiss scene in THE SPIRIT-HUNTERS is definitely something plucked from my Most-Perfect-Kisses-Imaginable-Bank.  And, of course, the rogue-ish Daniel is built from my dreams of swoon-worthy boys.

But those personal favorites are layered underneath not-so-happy conflict, rough decisions, crappy circumstances, and lots of failure — all stuff that doesn’t happen in my fantasies. 😉

Of course, fantasies can sometimes be hilarious for anecdotal tales…  Case in point:

If you ever have fantasies like Katie’s, I ask that you please share.  Or if you ever walk backwards into bushes while sighing deeply.  (Like, seriously, email me or something.)

But if you have fantasies like this, please don’t share! (Go to ~1:00 to hear the about the self-indulgent screen play.)

But if your fantasy is PG rated, just go ahead and share in the comments what your personal DREAM starring YOU would be!

~~~

Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, The Spirit-Hunters, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her writing process, crazy life-thoughts, and crippling cookie-addiction on her blog or twitter.

Book Recommendation: StarCrossed

24 Feb

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“I couldn’t think. My chest hurt from running, and I wasn’t even sure I was in the right place.”

Thieves are awesome. If you’ve read Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief (which you really should read), or loved Aladdin, or adored “Flynn Rider” from Disney’s Tangled (which you really should watch), or are charmed by the prince in The Prince of Persia games (which you really should play) or enjoyed books by Tamora Pierce (there are a few thieves in her worlds, like George Cooper from the Alanna series), then you probably know what I’m talking about.

I love thieves. Somehow, when they end up in a story (be it in a book, or a movie, or a video game), they end up stealing my heart (ahaha, sorry… I couldn’t help myself).

Elizabeth C. Bunce’s new YA novel, StarCrossed, doesn’t have a title that sounds like a story centered around a thief; it sounds more like a Romeo & Juliet type of story, with star-crossed lovers and tragic endings. But Bunce’s novel is full of courtly politics, intrigue, deception, rebellion, forbidden magic, and quite a bit of stealing and sneaking.

Want to know more? (Of course you want to know more!) Here’s the summary I swiped from Goodreads:

Digger thrives as a spy and sneak-thief among the feuding religious factions of Gerse, dodging the Greenmen who have banned all magic. But when a routine job goes horribly wrong and her partner and lover Tegen is killed, she has to get out of the city, fast, and hides herself in a merry group of nobles to do so. Accepted as a lady’s maid to shy young Merista Nemair, Digger finds new peace and friendship at the Nemair stronghold–as well as plenty of jewels for the taking. But after the devious Lord Daul catches her in the act of thievery, he blackmails her into becoming his personal spy in the castle, and Digger soon realizes that her noble hosts aren’t as apolitical as she thought… that indeed, she may be at the heart of a magical rebellion.

~~~

See? Rebellion! Spys! Dead lovers! How can you not want to read that? But as exciting as that is, there is so much more to this novel.

First, the world-building is phenomenal. Set in a land full of political intrigue and danger, Digger’s world is rife with numerous gods, multiple moons, religious wars, a frighteningly powerful Inquisition, and castles with secret passageways. And the magic! It adds to the secrecy surrounding Digger and the others.

Unfortunately, the story begins with a few too many characters (some of whom never make another appearance, though I imagine they might play a larger role in the sequel) and a few too many coincidences that just don’t feel right. The way Digger is able to escape the city with a group of nobs (nobles), or the way she easily becomes a lady’s maid – even though the nobles around her know nothing about her – comes off a bit heavy handed. But if you can look past the awkwardly contrived beginning, the story really fills out into an epic adventure with compelling characters. I, for one, am incredibly glad I was able to look past it and just get swept up in the rest of the story.

Bunce is wonderfully talented at creating multi-dimensional characters- and Digger is a wonderful protagonist. Though truth be told, there were times where I felt her character fell flat in comparison to other characters, but midway through the novel, Digger really starts to shine.  What I really enjoyed was how unreliable a narrator she is – how she keeps things from even us, the reader. It makes for some great twists and delightful surprises. She is talented, resourceful, and wonderfully independent. Her curiosity gets the better of her, as does her greed – which makes her a wonderfully flawed character. Digger is definitely not perfect. And though at times I felt frustrated and a bit confused by her wavering loyalties, by the end I was completely endeared to her. And her lack of loyalty is justified – being a thief, she knows firsthand just how devious people can be.

Merista is another well-written character. The daughter of the wealthy noble family who has taken Digger in at Bryn Shaer has one of the most gratifying coming-of-age arcs. Beginning as a girl who doesn’t even seem comfortable around herself let alone around her estranged (but loving) parents, Merista blossoms into a strong women capable of taking things into her own hands. From a meek little girl she becomes a proud young woman.

I could probably go on about all of Bunce’s characters. One of my favourites appears halfway through the novel – but to avoid spoilers, I won’t start naming names! Suffice it to say, he’s a character worth the wait. And he brings out a side of Digger that makes her even more compelling.

The plot is intricate and full of twists and turns. And while the first half of the book doesn’t have much action (and instead focuses on building the tension and suspense, and developing the characters), the second half truly delivers all the action you could want. The buildup is definitely worth the wait.

The first in a trilogy, StarCrossed is a wonderful read. From the wonderfully detailed settings and lush descriptions, to the bright characters and suspenseful plot, it is definitely a must-read. I can’t wait to read the sequel, Liar’s Moon! Fans of Tamora Pierce and Megan Whalen Turner won’t be able to put this magical book down.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on RIFT, a YA fantasy novel, and a Children’s non-fiction series. She also blogs about all things geeky at Something Geeky.

Book Recommendation: The Wee Free Men

2 Jan

by Jenn Fitzgerald

~~~

I’m already a big Terry Pratchett fan, so I was excited to read his YA work, though this book is pretty much Middle Grade. It’s got a couple of large vocabulary words that might throw young readers, but they’re usually explained right there in the text. I don’t know many books that can use susurrus effectively, but this is one of them. The writing is engaging, as Pratchett normally is, and because it’s aimed at a younger audience than most of his Discworld books, it doesn’t have the same references to new technology and politics. I found it to be a nice change that helped set more of a fairy-tale feel for the book.

The summary from Goodreads should be enough to convince you to pick up a copy:

“Another world is colliding with this one,” said the toad. “All the monsters are coming back.

“Why?” said Tiffany.

“There’s no one to stop them.”

There was silence for a moment.

Then Tiffany said, “There’s me.”

Armed only with a frying pan and her common sense, Tiffany Aching, a young witch-to-be, is all that stands between the monsters of Fairyland and the warm, green Chalk country that is her home. Forced into Fairyland to seek her kidnaped brother, Tiffany allies herself with the Chalk’s local Nac Mac Feegle — aka the Wee Free Men — a clan of sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men who are as fierce as they are funny. Together they battle through an eerie and ever-shifting landscape, fighting brutal flying fairies, dream-spinning dromes, and grimhounds — black dogs with eyes of fire and teeth of razors — before ultimately confronting the Queen of the Elves, absolute ruler of a world in which reality intertwines with nightmare. And in the final showdown, Tiffany must face her cruel power alone….

Tiffany hits monsters in the face with a frying pan. I approve. She’s also a strong character, with flaws and weaknesses that she has to face before she can confront the Queen. Reading this I empathized with Tiffany, I remembered being eleven and how annoying it was having to help with my little sister and loved how dead-on this little know-it-all was written.

I really enjoyed the characters in general. The Feegles are hilarious and inappropriate. It was fun to have cameos of Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, to tie the story into the rest of Discworld, and they managed not to steal the show. The monsters were great too and I loved the way the fairyworld was described as a parasite latching onto and bleeding through to the real world.

One thing that might annoy some readers is the way flashbacks are woven into the narrative. I’m generally not a big fan of flashbacks, especially when they appear as big chunks of italicized text, but I thought they worked well in this book.

The Wee Free Men is a fun read and I’d recommended to anyone, but especially Discworld fans and those who still enjoy kids’ stories.

~~~

Jennifer Fitzgerald is the author of a middle grade fantasy novel, PRISCILLA THE EVIL, which she is currently querying. She is also is a Ph.D student in archaeology, focusing on East Asia. You can visit her blog here or follow her on Twitter.

 

Book Recommendation: The Goose Girl

12 Dec

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
~~~

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.”

I am a huge fan of fairytales; and an even bigger fan of fairytale retellings. And though I know I’m late to the party with Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl (which was originally published in 2003), I’m only sad that it took me so long to finally pick up this book. I absolutely adored this book; I loved every page of it! And I’ve already picked up the other books in The Books of Bayern series.

Based on the German fairytale of the same name, the story follows a young princess who is sent off by her mother to be married to a prince in another land, with her talking horse Falada and a waiting-maid accompanying her. The waiting-maid steals the identity of the Princess when they arrive in the new kingdom, and the real Princess is forced to become a Goose girl.

For those who aren’t familiar with the fairytale and don’t want the rest of the story spoiled, I’ll stop there. I actually started reading this book without knowing the actual fairytale it was based off of, and so I read it not knowing exactly how it would play out (which, of course, made certain key elements shocking and exciting). But even if you do know the fairytale, you’ll still be wonderfully surprised.

Want to know more about Shannon Hale’s retelling? Here’s a summary from Goodreads:

She was born with her eyes closed and a word on her tongue, a word she could not taste.

Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, spends the first years of her life under her aunt’s guidance learning to communicate with animals. As she grows up Ani develops the skills of animal speech, but is never comfortable speaking with people, so when her silver-tongued lady-in-waiting leads a mutiny during Ani’s journey to be married in a foreign land, Ani is helpless and cannot persuade anyone to assist her. Becoming a goose girl for the king, Ani eventually uses her own special, nearly magical powers to find her way to her true destiny.

From the Grimm’s fairy tale of the princess who became a goose girl before she could become queen, Shannon Hale has woven an incredible, original, and magical tale of a girl who must find her own unusual talents before she can lead the people she has made her own.

~~~

Hale’s prose is wonderfully lyrical, which is hinted at in the summary from Goodreads above. Reading The Goose Girl, I couldn’t help but notice just how beautiful the words flowed together; and how smooth her dialogue and prose were. This is Hale’s greatest display of her craft – the easy way in which it seems she has placed perfectly-chosen words for the page. She is brilliant at it.

But that isn’t the only thing Hale does remarkably well. The story in The Goose Girl is also well-crafted, and thoroughly captivating. I didn’t want to put this book down – and every time I did, I couldn’t help but think of the world and the characters Hale had created. The world building in the first of the Books of Bayern series is fully realized. Full of lushly detailed settings, wonderfully different cultures, and a touch of magic, Shannon Hale has created a world that has quickly become one of my favourites.

Princess Ani is one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. The meek young woman you meet at the beginning of the story (though a Crown Princess by title) doesn’t have the strength of one. But once a goose girl, Ani grows by leaps and bounds into a strong heroine. And it isn’t only Ani who is compelling – Geric is loveable, Selia is incredibly devious, and even Falada, Ani’s horse, will find a way to your heart.

And the magic! Absolutely wonderful; it is woven into the story perfectly. Hale has crafted a world of magical speech; of people-speaking, animal-speaking, and nature-speaking. And though she doesn’t posses the persuasive gift of people-speaking that her mother the Queen does, Ani’s own gifts will truly shine through in their own right.

If you love fantastic adventures in Medieval worlds with a strong heroine, you’ll love this book. Full of deception, intrigue, treason, and redemption (and a little bit of romance), this book was a wonderful read in so many ways. So pick it up; it’s definitely found its way to my favourites shelf, and I’m sure it’ll find it’s way onto yours.

~~~

Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She also has a book publishing certificate under her belt. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

Book Recommendation: FIRELIGHT by Sophie Jordan

31 Oct

“Just surrender to the sizzle.” (Kirkus Reviews )

With her rare ability to breathe fire, Jacinda is special even among the draki—the descendants of dragons who can shift between human and dragon forms. But when Jacinda’s rebelliousness leads her family to flee into the human world, she struggles to adapt, even as her draki spirit fades. The one thing that revives it is Will, whose family hunts her kind. Jacinda can’t resist getting closer to him, even though she knows she’s risking not only her life but the draki’s most closely guarded secret.

I truly enjoyed FIRELIGHT.  From the first page I was unable to put the book down. Firelight is book full of vivid prose and description!  The characters seem to materialize right in front of you and drag you into their story with them. Jacinda and Will were favorite characters of mine, but I couldn’t help but feel drawn to by Jacinda’s sister, Tamra, as well.

Jacinda is a draki. As a descendant of dragons, she has two forms: her human one, and her truer draki form, complete with shimmering skin and dragon wings!  What makes her even more unique among her kind? She has the ability to breathe fire, thought to be lost among her species.

I really only had one issue with Jacinda, and that was her lack of decisiveness.  She see-sawed back and forth about Will a bit too much for my taste.  However, Will is a hunter, and what’s more, a hunter of her own kind.  So maybe Jacinda has a right to her indecisiveness.  It only interrupted my enjoyment of the story in spots.

In general, I would say that this series is very intriguing and Sophie Jordan has definitely brought a fresh voice to YA paranormal!

 

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Julie Eshbaugh is represented by Natalie Fischer of the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. You can follow her on LiveJournal here and on Twitter here.

 

Book Recommendation: Plain Kate

7 Sep

by Vanessa Di Gregorio
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“A long time ago, in a market town by a looping river, there lived an orphan girl called Plain Kate.”

Katerina Svetlana is anything but plain. Though she is thin like a stick, she has two different coloured eyes – but that isn’t what is remarkable about her. What is remarkable is that Plain Kate is a skilled carver. And she is shadowless.

This is the type of story that will leave you with chills. It will make you smile, and even laugh; it will make you shiver in horror and shake with anger; and it will break your heart. And even after your heart has mended, this is the type of story that will stay with you.

And as if this cover isn’t gorgeous enough to pique your interest, here’s the wonderful description from Goodreads:

Plain Kate lives in a world of superstitions and curses, where a song can heal a wound and a shadow can work deep magic. As the wood-carver’s daughter, Kate held a carving knife before a spoon, and her wooden talismans are so fine that some even call her “witch-blade”: a dangerous nickname in a country where witches are hunted and burned in the square.

For Kate and her village have fallen on hard times. Kate’s father has died, leaving her alone in the world. And a mysterious fog now covers the countryside, ruining crops and spreading fear of hunger and sickness. The townspeople are looking for someone to blame, and their eyes have fallen on Kate.

Enter Linay, a stranger with a proposition: In exchange for her shadow, he’ll give Kate the means to escape the angry town, and what’s more, he’ll grant her heart’s wish. It’s a chance for her to start over, to find a home, a family, a place to belong. But Kate soon realizes she can’t live shadowless forever — and that Linay’s designs are darker than she ever dreamed.

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Drawing on Russian folklore, the story immerses you in a world full of culture and depth and language. A world where magic is an exchange of gifts, and where witches are unable to tell lies; where suspicions run deep, and traditions clash. A world of gypsy-like people called Roamers, traveling caravans, and rusalkas. It is a wonderfully realized world that Erin Bow has created; and she has done it very well.

The story’s prose is deceivingly simple; and strangely lyrical. It is not overwritten; but you will find moments of beautiful poetry hidden there. Bow weaves her words with such skill that it will leave you hungry for more. Her imagery is vivid, her descriptions clear, and her storytelling absolutely brilliant.

But what is perhaps Bow’s greatest strength are her characters. They are complex (like everything else in the story), and Bow does not hold back. The characters are charming and likable and incredibly sympathetic: you’ll find yourself rooting for them. And they are all distinctly different. Strong and memorable, Plain Kate Carver herself is outdone by her cat Taggle (who steals the show). His character is wonderful; funny and playful, serious and sarcastic. He is as haughty and self-loving as a lord. But the amount of growth one little cat was able to achieve in so few pages is remarkable. There is no doubt in my mind that everyone who reads this book will fall in love with him.

But Kate is also a joy to read. Though many things happen to her, instead of because of her, she is still a strong character. With folklore and legend, often the hero has no choice. And so in keeping with the spirit of folklore, Kate is a character who has things happen to her; things that are often beyond her control. But she still holds on and fights as much as she can, even though she is not a strong warrior. She is not in possession of any dangerous magic, or otherworldly strength; she is simply skilled at carving. But it is the strength of her heart that really shines through in the end. She is a character who is truly worthy of finding happiness; and you will pray with all your might that she does eventually find it.

Bow’s villains are also beautifully portrayed. They are not wholly evil, and as such are incredibly sympathetic; you will find yourself pitying Linay, and many others who do wrong. For these are character who are driven to do bad things, though they themselves are not evil; it is through fear, or hurt, or anger, or pain that they choose to harm. In my opinion, Bow has created some of the best villains; they are complex and heartbreaking, and so well crafted.

Even Arthur A. Levine couldn’t help but say good things about Plain Kate. Here’s what he had to say in Publisher’s Weekly:

I’ve been sent a lot of fantasy, some of it quite good. But it’s very rare for a book to stand out for me the way Plain Kate did.”

Levine said Bow’s prose has the “lyrical strength and classic proportions” of master writers. “She is a truly original talent,” Levine said, evidenced by a “breathless e-mail” he got from an associate at the most recent London Book Fair who said Printz Award winner Meg Rosoff had read Plain Kate and couldn’t stop raving about it.

Plain Kate is dark, sorrowful, and haunting; it will pull on your heart-strings and tear at your chest. But it is also full of hope, and joy, and love; you will find yourself smiling in delight. There is death, there is blood; and there is life and laughter. She explores the complexities of relationships and the gray area between right and wrong. And Bow excels at portraying both the light and the dark with such depth that it will leaving you reeling even after you’ve turned the last page of the book. It is a bittersweet story of family and friendship and belonging. Plain Kate reads like an old tale: like folklore. And it is a wonder to behold.

I highly recommend this book; it is as chilling and complex as Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and is so full of heart. In fact, it’s become one of my favourite books ever. I cried so many times; honestly, I thought a piece of my heart broke. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. This story touched me, and I know it’s one I’m not likely to forget. If Kate doesn’t capture your heart, then Taggle surely will. Definitely put this on your list; you won’t regret it.

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Book received from Publisher

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.