Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness (9780062869494)

Sarah and her father are meeting the dragon he hired to help clear fields on their farm. Sarah has been forbidden to talk to the dragon, and even more forcefully reminded not to tell it her name. But Sarah can’t think of the dragon as an it. The dragon is remarkable, even though he is a smaller blue dragon. As the dragon, Kazamir, and Sarah get to know one another, they must face the hatred of a local deputy along with Sarah’s boyfriend Jason. Sarah and Jason are the only people of color in town, something that gets unwelcome attention in 1957. But Sarah doesn’t know what Kazamir does, that she is part of a prophecy. The prophecy is also what is drawing an assassin from a dragon worshiping cult towards her. Malcolm is hunting her, but also being trailed by the FBI. As he approaches, he leaves a trail of bodies but also finds himself unexpectedly in love for the first time. As the moment of the prophesy nears, everything is in place but for what?

Ness as always surprises and amazes in this new novel. His world building is remarkable, combining alternative history of the late 1950’s with fantasy into a world that is entirely believable. The novel is layered and complex, becoming even more so as it continues. The book incorporates marvelous science fiction elements as well as it builds, burning hotter and hotter, making its title all the more appropriate.

Ness’ characters are just as complicated as his plot and world building. He spends time making each of the three protagonists fascinating. There is Sarah, a girl who may or may not be trapped in a prophecy but certainly is caught in poverty and yet will not give up. Malcolm may have grown up in a cult and be there weapon of destruction, but new love is a power thing, something that can change a destiny. Kazamir, the dragon, is someone readers will adore from his first sarcastic comment and quirked eyebrow.

Brilliantly built, layered and populated, this is a new world created by a master. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Quill Tree Books.

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown (9780062891495)

Karina knows she isn’t the daughter her mother wanted. After Karina’s older sister and father were killed in a fire that she can barely remember, Karina had to take her sister’s place as heir. But her mother, The Kestrel, never taught her the same way that her older sister was taught, and Karina found great pleasure in defying any expectations. Now the country is starting a new era, triggered by the appearance of a comet in the skies, where the various factions will fight to see whose god or goddess rules in the next 50 years. Karina’s mother shows her for the first time, the magic that keeps their country safe, but then is killed before explaining it fully to her. Now Karina must find a way forward, led by a book’s instructions on resurrecting the dead. Meanwhile, Malik is a refugee caught outside the city’s walls. When his little sister is trapped by a dark spirit, Malik must promise to kill Karina in order to gain his sister’s release. He soon discovers that what he had been told was mental issues was actually his magic, a magic that he uses to get closer to be Karina by becoming a Champion, seemingly selected by his god. As the lives of the two run parallel to one another, they find themselves negotiating politics, magic, greed, and betrayal.

Brown has crafted an entire world of matriarchal queens that spirals with hidden and forgotten magic. Filled with African elements, the story weaves around figures such as Hyena, wraiths that lurk in the corners of the world, and the savagery of power. Brown also speaks to the plight of refugees, of entire people’s being seen as lesser than and vilified while still used as servants. Her world is detailed and fascinating, including a well-crafted alignment system that plays into the contests and much more.

The two main protagonists are complicated. At times, each of them becomes quite unlikeable, making choices that are questionable. And yet, one can’t help but root for them to figure things out, come back to being the people readers know they are deep down, and to realize that they are heroines and heroes of their own lives. Readers will enjoy the romantic elements, but nicely these are not the main focus of the novel which is jam-packed with action, contests, battles and more.

Unique, detailed and fascinating, this first book in a series is a heady mix of African myth, political intrigue and fantasy. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Balzer + Bray.

2020 Locus Awards Finalists

The finalists for the 2020 Locus Awards have been announced. The awards are given for the best science fiction and fantasy of the year in a wide variety of categories that include books, magazines, artists, editors and publishers. They have one category specifically for the best YA novel. Here are the finalists in that category:

Angel Mage by Garth Nix

The Book of Dust: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer

Destroy All Monsters by Sam J. Miller

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Shadow Captain by Alastair Reynolds

War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi

The Wicked King by Holly Black

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese

A Game of Fox & Squirrels by Jenn Reese (9781250243010)

Sam has moved with her older sister Caitlin to stay with her Aunt Vicky, a person they had never met before. They arrive in rural Oregon to a small house with a chicken coop and a large woods nearby. Aunt Vicky welcomes them warmly along with her wife. Sam knows how to stay invisible most of the time, hiding behind her sister’s ability to speak with grown ups. When her aunt gives her a card game, Sam loves the characters on the cards and starts to see a talking fox and squirrels nearby. The fox sends her on a quest for the Golden Acorn, a prize that will allow Sam and her sister to go back home. As Sam starts the quests, she soon learns that showing the fox trust means starting a cycle of abuse once more.

Reese entwines fantasy elements into this book that shows the deep consequences of abuse on a young person. Sam is desperate to get back in touch with her mother and father, though they were abusive parents. The abuse is shown in pieces of comments that Sam remembers, and it does not play out in front of the reader. This results in a haunting echo of abuse that carries through the entire book and all of the characters.

Against that, the game is afoot with a sly fox who manipulates Sam, much as her own father did when she lived with him. The squirrels add a needed merriment to the book with their antics and also show a lot of concern and support for Sam. Yet they are clearly trapped in their own abusive situation with the fox too.

Rich and layered, this mix of fantasy and stark reality is powerful. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Henry Holt and Co.

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico

Aster and the Accidental Magic by Thom Pico, illustrated by Karensac (9780593124178)

Aster has moved with her family away from the city and to a boring woods on a rural mountain. At first, she thinks they are just there for a brief time as her mother tries to deal with the lethal bird migration, but they have actually moved to the mountain permanently. When her father forces Aster out from in front of her video games, she discovers some oddities about her new home. There’s an old woman who has a herd of woolly dogs. The woman gives Aster one of the dogs, a little one with no wool. After that, Aster and her new pet discover a very strange rock in the middle of the woods, and it turns out to be a trickster that grants wishes. After a series of disastrous wishes, Aster gets things back on track. But things may still be awry, since now the seasons are failing to change, a fox is after a lot of power, and the old woman may have died. It’s up to Aster to figure out how to save the mountain that’s her home.

Pico takes the zany energy of cartoons and channels it into a book filled with twists and turns that are surprising and delightful. The reader never quite knows what is going to happen next. The book has time bubbles that change the way time is perceived, magic power stored in staffs, and talking dogs. It’s chaotic at times but in the best possible way and has a merry tone where one knows things will work out in the end, or perhaps take another twist before that happens.

The art is modern and full of humor. From woolly dogs to mountains with faces to tiny chestnut knights, each one is done with personality to spare. The art captures plenty of action, battles and magical moments.

A thrilling graphic novel with lots of love and laugh with. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Graphic.

2020 Hugo Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2020 Hugo Awards have been announced, including those for the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book.

LODESTAR AWARD FOR BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOK FINALISTS

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer

Deeplight, by Frances Hardinge

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Minor Mage, by T. Kingfisher

Riverland, by Fran Wilde

The Wicked King, by Holly Black

 

BEST GRAPHIC STORY FINALISTS includes:

Mooncakes, by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

Enchanter’s Child: Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage

Enchanter's Child Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage

Enchanter’s Child: Twilight Hauntings by Angie Sage (9780062875143)

The author of the Septimus Heap series returns with a new fantasy world. Alex lives in Luma, where all magic is forbidden. She has a deck of Hex cards that come to life in her hands and show her images of the future. She’s always had them, given to her as a small child by the family that gave her away. But one jealous foster sister decides to name Alex as an enchanter and everything changes. Alex flees with her youngest foster brother into a world designed to hunt her down with magical hauntings. Her step mother is placed in jail for harboring her. As Alex escapes, she still doesn’t believe that she’s an enchanter’s child, though the Hauntings do target her. Meanwhile, her father who used to be an important enchanter, is searching for her. But it’s a large world, full of Hauntings that will kill them both, even though he designed them all.

Sage has a skill for developing entire worlds that click together beautifully as the story continues. Readers will wonder about why people don’t just flee the gloomy streets of Luma out to the countryside, and Sage has built dark and deadly reasons for them to stay behind the walls of the city. The entire world though is also piercingly beautiful with its citrus groves, deep woods, large meadows and turreted cities. Sage takes the time to fully build her world and its logic, allowing young readers to explore it alongside Alex.

Alex herself is a grand protagonist, figuring out that she actually is an enchanter’s child on her journeys. She is brave, forthright and clever. Happily, she is also joined by a large group of secondary characters who are all interesting as well. That includes her father, who was been hiding for years in the woods, eating snakes and spider eggs. He is joined by a person tasked with killing enchanters who just can’t bring himself to do it. Then you also have a family happy to help Alex, who have lost enchanters themselves.

Brilliantly structured, beautifully described settings, and great characters bring this new series fully alive. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith

The Deep Dark Blue by Niki Smith (9780316485982)

When their family is killed in front of them in a political coup, twin brothers Hawke and Grayson are forced into hiding. They become initiates into the Communion of Blue, a society of women who weave the blue thread of reality and can control the strings of power. Disguised as girls, the two must learn new ways of life, including battling unarmed rather than with swords and learning the spinning skills that girls are taught by their mothers. The siblings create their own plan to take back their royal home, using old and new skills. But Grayson, who has hidden as Grayce, is unwilling to leave the first place she’s been allowed to live as a girl.

Smith’s graphic novel has a wonderful edge to it in both story and imagery. The tale is timeless as is the need for vengeance. Yet Smith makes it modern with her art but also the inclusion of a transgender character as one of the main protagonists. Grayce’s identity is handled clearly and with sensitivity, allowing her to become fully herself as the story unfolds.

The art is spectacular, using a palette of blues, purples and pinks, this kingdom comes alive. The Communion of Blue is fascinating to learn more about, visually as well as in the story. The cast of characters is racially diverse as well.

A graphic novel full of magic, familial honor and LGBTQ representation. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

Snap knows that the witch has taken her dog, probably to use him for a ritual or eat him. So she sneaks into the witch’s house to rescue him. But Snap discovers that Jacks isn’t really a witch after all and was actually trying to save her dog after an accident. Jacks is actually pretty cool, creating skeletons of animals from road kill and selling them online. Jacks also helps Snap when she discovers finds some baby opossums. As the two rear the opossums together, Snap discovers her own love of bones and science. But Jacks still has a surprise herself, real magic, that she can help Snap learn too.

This graphic novel is such a treat of a book. It offers a heroine who is not afraid to be different from the stereotypical girl, exploring death, animals and magic. In the story, Snap gains a best friend, Lou, someone who is exploring their gender. Lou finds support with Snap and her mother, who share clothes and offer a safe space. The story also offers background on Jacks and Snap’s grandmother with a sad tale of love that had to make way, or did it?

The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.

A marvelous and magical graphic novel that includes LGBT, race and gender elements. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.