Tag: fantasy

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (InfoSoup)

When Nimona joins forces with Lord Ballister Blackheart, she brings organization and a need for real vengeance to the ongoing battle between good and evil. Her shape-shifting abilities add to her usefulness as a sidekick so even though Blackheart usually works alone, he agrees to let her join him. Good and evil aren’t so clear cut in this graphic novel where the bad guys help the downtrodden people and the good guys are in power and unwilling to let it go. The dynamics between Blackheart and his arch nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin also complicate the situation, since the two are clearly attracted to one another. As their small heists gain the attention of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics, Nimona and Blackheart get into deadly battles where Nimona’s mysterious background may be what destroys them all.

Stevenson has created a graphic novel where nothing is as it seems. Readers will fall hard for this villainous duo, even when they think they are bad guys. As that morphs throughout the book and readers question what makes a villain or a hero, the book becomes more complicated and more interesting. Serious questions are asked about morals and right and wrong here, a depth that is great to find. Yet there is also humor to lighten up the situations, mostly provided by Nimona herself and her deadly yet playful approach to life and villainy.

I also applaud this graphic novel for having a romantic attachment between the two lead male characters. It is implied at first and then overtly shown. I love the dynamics of two men who both intended to be heroes but only one was willing to give up his principles to do so; the villain was not. Nimona herself is wonderfully curvy and filled with punk energy that shows in her hairstyles and their wild colors. I love a heroine (or is she a villain) who is far from a stereotype and who has incredible power.

Great art, a complex world, lots of feminism, and plenty of moral questions to grapple with create the teen graphic novel of the year. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Chris Riddell (InfoSoup)

When a group of dwarfs travels through their tunnels in the mountain to another land, they discover that a sleeping curse is spreading across the world and will soon threaten the kingdom they live in. It all originated with one castle, an angry fairy and a young princess. The dwarfs return through the mountain and let their queen know of the danger. Though it is about to be her wedding day, she goes with them. They discover a land falling fast asleep and that the sleepers will follow them slowly. The castle has a hedge of thorns around it that seems impenetrable. Inside the castle is an old woman who is the only one left awake. She knows that no one can pass the thorns and considers killing the beautiful girl asleep on the bed to lift the curse, but she doesn’t. It is the queen alone who can figure out how to pass the thorns and who will recognize the evil for what it actually is.

Gaiman takes the Grimm story of Sleeping Beauty and makes it lush and incredibly beautiful. His prose is gorgeous, lingering on small things and building a world that is filled with a deadly magic. The queen herself is a great character, much more interested in being a heroine than a queen and having adventures rather than a gorgeous wedding dress. Gaiman does not cringe away from a woman saving another woman, and then he does an amazing twist to the story. One that readers will be shocked by and one that allows it all to click into place, hauntingly.

Riddell’s illustrations are done in pen and ink, made shimmering by touches of gold throughout. Yet it is truly his art which shines here, the details of people asleep as spider’s weave webs across their faces, the dark beauty of the queen and the blonde beauty of the sleeping girl. There is also a beauty to the old woman that is unique and special and to the dwarfs too with their roughened features. The setting too is brought clearly to life as they traverse it.

A glorious new feminist version of Sleeping Beauty that twists and turns before a very satisfying ending. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

The Girl Who Could Not Dream by Sarah Beth Durst

Sophie lives above her parents’ bookstore that is actually much more than a place to sell books. Downstairs below the store is another shop, the dream shop, where her parents deal in dreams harvested from dreamcatchers and then bottled. Sophie never has dreams of her own and she has been forbidden from ever drinking a dream. One day though she tries one and discovers that she has the ability to bring things back from her dreams into real life. That’s how she gets her best friend, Monster, a creature from a nightmare. Dealing in dreams can be dangerous business since it is done on the black market. When the dream shop is robbed and Sophie’s parents are taken, Sophie has to figure out who is responsible and the find a way to free her family that will mean trusting outsiders and breaking family rules.

Durst is a master storyteller. Her flights of fancy here are intoxicatingly original and yet also pay homage to traditions too. Monster is one of my favorite characters, a wise-cracking, fuzzy and loveable creature who is ferociously loyal, brave and hungry. Then there is a snooty pegasus who has his own attitude and speaks harsh truths, not to mention the multicolored ninja bunnies. Durst builds a story that has room for all of them and remains wonderfully clear and focused on the real story going on.

Sophie is a character who is known by classmates as being prickly. It’s difficult to create a character who is embraced by the reader as a hero but faces real issues at school with making friends. Durst does it with real skill, giving Sophie a personality that is by necessity very private but also making her warm and loving to those in her inner circle. The use of that privacy is also used to isolate Sophie, making the adventure all the more harrowing and forcing her to open up to those she would not otherwise trust.

A strong fantasy for elementary readers, this book is filled with smart humor and great characters. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from NetGalley and Clarion Books.

Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (InfoSoup)

In the slums of Ketterdam, you do anything you can to survive. The Dregs are a gang in the area, up and coming and led by Kaz Brekker, a teen who walks with a cane that can kill and has a ferocious personality to match. When he is offered a remarkably high sum to pull off an impossible heist, he knows just the group of people who can help him do it. The group of six teens from very different backgrounds don’t exactly get along perfectly. Some of them hate one another, others are drawn to one another for romance and still others are completely indifferent to the rest. But each of them has hidden talents that this heist will demand that they use, if they are going to survive at all.

Bardugo is a master storyteller. Here she continues the story of the Grisha world with a new cast of characters. Their world is the mix of danger, thrill and torment of the slums that are also dashed with fakery and glitter. It will take those harsh survival skills for them to pull off the gambit, but it will also take them each wrestling with their past and how they got to Ketterdam in the first place. Bardugo makes sure that we know each of the six intimately, allowing us to see how poverty, war and loss can turn someone to a criminal.

Set in the same world as her previous trilogy, this new series adds even more depth and breadth to an already rich setting. Bardugo makes the world of Ketterdam almost its own character, filling it with villains, rivals and all around bad people. One can hear the cacophony of the streets, the sounds of the gambling, the calls of the vendors. One can smell the sweat, dirty bodies, and desperation. Against all of that, you have these teens who are all unique and fascinating, each driven by something personal to them alone. It’s a beautifully built book.

Rivetingly written, richly drawn and filled with fascinating characters, this book will please fans of the previous series and create new fans too. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Review: A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder

A Nearer Moon by Melanie Crowder (InfoSoup)

Luna lives in a swamp that was formed when a dam formed in the river by fallen trees. She lives with her mother, grandmother and little sister Willow in a village on stilts above the swamp water. Everyone in the village knows not to drink the swamp water, particularly the water near the slick. But when Luna has Willow out on her boat with her, water accidentally gets into her mouth. The water was helped by a creature who lives deep in the muck of the swamp. Now Willow only has a few weeks to live, since everyone exposed to the water dies at the exact same time after drinking it. Luna is desperate to find a way to save her sister, even going so far as to offer herself to the creature under the water. But that creature too has her own story that is wrapped around Luna and Willow’s. It too is a story of sisters and also a loss so deep that it poisons. In her desperation can Luna find a way to save her sister?

Crowder writes so beautifully. The setting of the swamp comes alive with her words, the creatures of the swamp, the trees, the colors, the smells and the subtle beauty. She takes what could have been a desolate poison swamp and instead wraps it in beauty and wonder. The magic that permeates the story is deep and dark, and keeps the humans trapped in the swamp with it. It’s lovely to see a fantasy book use magic in a way that is twisted and corrupted and yet entirely organic and realistic too.

The parallel stories of the two sets of sisters is delicately balanced. There is the main story of Luna and Willow, two human sisters who adore one another and the place they live. Then there are the water sprite sisters, Perdy and Gia. The sprites are trying to leave this world and build a door to another place that doesn’t have humans in it. Gia spends her time near the door, waiting for it to be complete while Perdy explores far and wide. But disaster happens once the door is completed and Gia is unable to call Perdy home fast enough.

Lushly written and filled with details that bring the swamp to life, this novel is a magnificent fantasy read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

The town that Mikey lives in has been hit by more than its share of strange things. There were the vampires, soul-eating ghosts and the zombies. But Mikey isn’t one of the kids who would get caught up in those situations. He’s not an indie kid, just a normal kid who wants to graduate from high school in a few weeks, maybe kiss one of his closest friends, go to the prom, and just spend time together with the people he loves. But life isn’t that simple and strange things are happening around the town with blue lights glowing, angry cops with blue glowing eyes, dead deer that come back to life, and much more. Mikey is all ready to blame the new kid for everything, including his own inability to date Henna. And Mikey is having to deal with his own OCD returning, unable to stop washing his hands until they are bleeding. Then there’s the problem of his dad’s drinking and his mother’s inattention as she runs her new political campaign. Even Mikey’s older sister is struggling again with her eating disorder. As graduation nears and the town gets even more unstable, Mikey must learn more about himself and his friends before he can realize just how amazing life really is.

Ness adroitly combines several genres in this novel for teens. There are the real-life teen elements of parental dysfunction and mental illness. Those are cleverly combined with a fantasy novel that has children of cat gods, magical elves, and bodies that are used as vessels. And finally, there is the perfect ironic twist of being a parody of popular teen novels like Twilight. Ness does this final piece by having the events of a Twilight-like novel happening around the characters but rarely to them, the story of those events is told in quick manner at the beginning of each chapter and then left aside as Mikey and his story takes center stage with its brilliant mix of magic and normal.

It is that delightful genre bending that makes this book so special. But it is also the fact that though Ness is poking fun at some of the more popular genre tropes, he is also writing a great book that will please fans of those books too. The parody is there yes, but underneath that is a novel that has truly human characters who love one another, struggle with their own failings, yearn for more in life, and work hard to make sure that those they love are protected and cared for. It’s a novel with a true heart, one that is not ironic in any way, but gorgeous and honest.

A fascinating read, this teen novel will have you laughing at the parody while all the time enjoying the real depth of its characters. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperTeen.

Review: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon (InfoSoup)

The creator of Dragonbreath and Hamster Princess has an illustrated novel filled with sorcery, witches, magic and minions. The minions of Castle Hangnail are worried. If they don’t find a witch, wizard, sorceress or vampire to run the castle, it will be decommissioned and sold off by the Board of Magic. But the minions did not expect a twelve-year-old girl to show up on their doorstep, especially one that does not seem as wicked a witch as she should. Molly sets out to prove herself, taking on the list of requirements set by the Board of Magic. She is a natural witch and uses her magic to successfully turn a donkey into a dragon, though the spell does last a lot longer than expected. She also befriends the moles in the garden, vanquishes weeds alongside a local gardener, and tries to find a solution to the castle’s failing plumbing. But despite her success, Molly has been lying all along and her lies are about to tumble down around her and may have her leaving Castle Hangnail for good (or evil).

This novel works exceptionally well. Vernon captures a diverse set of characters. There is the guardian of the castle who is doubtful about Molly from the start, the animated suit of armor who would fight anyone who threatens the castle except that his knees seize up, Pins the animated fabric doll who is a great tailor, and his pet goldfish who suffers from being a hypochondriac. Against this wild cast Molly is refreshingly normal. She’s a girl who is not squeamish about bats or insects, enjoying that liking them counts as being wicked. She is clever in her solutions to the list of requirements and figures out how to use her uneducated power to accomplish great things.

The book is also illustrated, adding to the delight for the reader. There are just enough illustrations to have the book still be a novel but also to break up the blocks of text very nicely for young readers. Readers will enjoy seeing what Pins looks like, what a dragon-donkey appears as, and the little bat who is sent to stay with Molly because he likes being awake during the day. All of this adds to the friendly and fascinating menagerie of characters throughout the book, with Molly the wicked witch being the foil for all of it.

Filled with humor and a strong sense of home, this fantasy novel for children has enough action and magic to win the day. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.