Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (9780062570604)
Released April 3, 2018.
This inventive teen novel mixes a zombie apocalypse with American Civil War era history into one compelling read. Jane was born on a plantation, an African-American child to the white mistress of the house. The dead started to rise only days after her birth, so Jane never knew a world without Shamblers. Now Jane is attending Miss Preston’s a school for African American girls that teaches them how to kill zombies. As she nears graduation, she begins to question how the zombies are being managed in her area near Baltimore. Though she is seeing more of them around, claims are being made that they are being exterminated. As the lies that surround Jane come crashing down, she is sent to a new city in Kansas, but life there is even more brutal than the one she has left behind. It is up to Jane not only to save herself but an entire community from destruction.
Ireland’s world building is incredible rich as are all of the details of the story. It makes it almost impossible to summarize the book effectively, because there is so much more to say! Ireland was inspired by the Indian Boarding Schools in the United States and based her model of zombie training schools from them. This book tackles racism in the same clear cut way that you take a zombie’s head off.
Jane is a great protagonist. She is smarter than almost everyone else in the book, cunning as she quickly creates solutions to impossible situations, and still deeply flawed. She is judgemental of others, often misunderstanding them and falls for the wrong people. She is beautifully proud, almost entirely unable to bite her tongue, and always creating trouble for herself.
A wild and bloody book with a fierce protagonist who sears the page. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Balzer + Bray.
That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E. K. Johnston (9781101994979)
Set in a world slightly in the future, this teen novel explores what might have happened if the British Empire had continued to be in power. Canada is part of the empire and the United States is a struggling land of revolutionaries and poverty. When Victoria-Margaret is allowed to have one year of freedom and visit Canada incognito, she discovers new friends, plenty of balls and parties, and a new understanding of the empire she will one day govern. One of her new friends is Helena, who doesn’t know who Victoria-Margaret actually is and who is also keeping her own secrets from Margaret and her beau, August, who also has troubles to occupy his time. As the three of them head into the Canadian country to spend time at their families’ lake homes, the truth must eventually be shared in between newfound love, country dances and letter writing.
Johnston, author of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, has created a novel that could have been entirely frothy and filled with dresses, dances and divas. Instead it is a book that explores many aspects of life from honesty to family honor to the truth of who someone actually is, deep inside. Set in the near-future, the book also has a computer that finds genetically beneficial matches for people. For Helena, this computer reveals that she is actually intersex. That fact almost topples Helena, but as she lives with it for awhile she finds herself exploring new parts of her personality and of romance.
Written with grace, this novel for teens is a lovely introduction to alternative history science fiction. The flair of the debutante season, the touches of British life throughout the realm, and the pressure on all three teens to find proper matches create a whirl of a novel. The two female lead characters are refreshingly different from one another and yet make ideal friends. There is a quiet to them both, an introspective quality and also a merriment and delight in simple pleasures.
A great book for fans of The Crown and Victoria, get this into their hands. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Dutton Books for Young Readers.
The Shadow Cipher by Laura Ruby (9780062306937, Amazon)
This first book in a series introduces readers to an alternative New York City, filled with amazing machines built by the Morningstarr twins in the 1800’s. There are servant robots, skyscrapers, elevators that don’t just go up and down, beetle-machines that clean the roads, and many more. The Morningstarrs left behind a cipher to be solved that would lead to treasure, and even though people have worked for cipher for over fifty years, no solution has been found. Tess, Theo and Jaime live in one of the Morningstarr buildings that is unfortunately slated to be torn down. While their families scramble to find somewhere new to live, the three of them discover a potential new cipher that may lead them to the treasure and save the building they love. Now they just have to solve it.
Ruby has beautifully weaved an alternative New York City in this novel. She imagines it filled with amazing technology that has a magical element to it. It’s rather like magic-powered steampunk. She combines this with riddles and ciphers, puzzles to work out and then provides distinct villains to fight as well. The result is a book that is entirely delightful to read and impossible to put down as one new discovery immediately leads to another.
The three main characters are strongly written and offer a diverse cast. Tess keeps up and surpasses the boys at times, offering a strong feminist take on events as she does so. All of them are exceedingly bright in their own way, from being logical and sometimes robotic to looking at the world through art. There is a celebration of different intelligence types here that is great to see.
This mix of magic, technology, mysteries and ciphers is exceptional and just right for summer reading. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Walden Pond Press.
Prairie Fire by E.K. Johnston
Released March 1, 2015.
This sequel to The Story of Owen continues the dragon-slaying adventures of Siobhan and Owen. Upon graduating from high school, Owen joins the Oil Watch, the international organization that trains dragon slayers and their support teams to fight a variety of different dragons. Despite the damage to her hands, Siobhan manages to qualify to join the Oil Watch too, the first bard in a long time to do so. They must first survive basic training, designed to get them working as a team and Siobhan has the added problem of figuring out a role for a bard in a situation where it is about killing dragons, putting out fires, and tending medical emergencies. As their basic training ends, the dragon slayers are sent all over the world to where they are needed most. But the Canadian government has not forgiven Owen for what happened and their posting is not one that will forge a new dragon slaying hero. That is unless Siobhan can create the songs and stories that tell a different story.
With writing just as fresh and engaging as the first book, this new novel is superb. It builds upon the first novel, returning us to that wonderful world of alternate history with a modern Canada and North America awash in dragon fire. Johnston continues to show her prowess is rewriting history and filling it with dragons as well as creating a new Canada and United States with boundaries that shift and politics that are complexly drawn.
At its heart always though is the intense friendship of Siobhan and Owen, a bard and her dragon slayer, a musician and her muse. Johnston continues as she did in the first book to create a story that is not about romance but instead two complicated people who care deeply for one another as friends. Again, there is no kissing between the two and no longing glances either. It makes for a refreshing change.
A riveting read with a powerful ending that I am working hard not to spoil in the least. This novel is beautifully written, bravely done and purely epic. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Netgalley and Carolrhoda Books.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Released in October 2009.
The talented Westerfeld turns to steampunk in this first book in a new series. Set in an alternate history on the eve of World War I, this book offers large walking mechs vs. man-made creatures that can be combined to form enormous flying and living blimps. In this setting are two young people, Alek and Deryn. Alek, son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, is the sole surviving person in his family now that his parents have been killed. He just may be considered the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne if he can survive long enough. Deryn is a girl who has always loved to fly, but in 1914 girls are not allowed to become pilots. So Deryn becomes Dylan, a tall, lean boy and proves she is born to fly. The reader experiences the action through the eyes of both characters living completely separate lives until history brings them violently together.
Gorgeously imagined and written with a flair for battle and a sense of wonder, this book is a winner. The pacing is fast, the action whirling, and the history deftly placed so that even teens and youth unaware of World War I’s basic timeline will understand the implications and importance of what they are witnessing in this alternate history. Westerfeld’s characters are caught in the vortex of history and war and spend little time offering deeper insights about their psyches, but that is part of the pleasure here. This book is more about the incredible war machines and creatures, the awe of flying, the amazement of running in a mech, and the biological magnificence of an enormous flying creature. As readers, we too are swept up in the imagination on the page, happily believing in the most incredible creations.
Teens will pick this novel up simply because it is a Westerfeld novel, and happily this book will also offer an entry point for younger readers to enjoy Westerfeld’s work. While much of Westerfeld’s work is for teens, this book could be offered to 5th and 6th graders without concern. It is a rip-roaring and gripping look at both the future and the past that readers of all ages will have trouble putting down.
Reviewed from an ARC received at ALA Annual Conference.
Also reviewed by Karin’s Book Nook.