Tag: fantasy

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch by Laurie Forest (9780373212316, Amazon)

Elloren has led a sheltered life with her uncle, making violins and creating cures out of herbs. Now she is being sent to university, something her powerful aunt doesn’t agree with. Her aunt attempts to have her paired with a seductive young man who seems eager as well, but Elloren has promised her uncle not to wandfast until after she graduates. At university, Elloren is exposed to more other races than ever before, including lupines, elves, and some hidden Fae. In an attempt to force Elloren to marry, her aunt has set up the worst possible quarters for her, sharing a room in a drafty cold tower with two Icarals, born with wings and considered to be cursed. Elloren slowly learns of her own biases and racism as the book continues, figuring out that her upbringing has been slanted and that her own history may be questionable.

I must address that this book was the subject of a huge situation at GoodReads where its star score is still low because people saw the book as racist. While colors of skin do play a role in the book, this book is all about a sheltered girl with a heritage that is filled with glory and blood figuring out that she is entirely and unquestionably wrong. The book made sure not to leave statements of Elloren’s bias on the page without a counterpart and does exceptionally well at having other perspectives always presented. There are no simple answers here, since Forest has created a complicated and intricate world that bears little resemblance to our own.

Forest’s characters are entirely flawed and that makes the book so much better. Elloren may or may not be the next Black Witch. Readers will know there is a well of untapped power within her and see clues about it. They will also be infuriated by Elloren at times, as she flirts with a man who is clearly dangerous and using her. Elloren grows at a natural pace, her perspectives shifting with research, lectures, and personal experience. There is a lot magical about this fantasy novel, but her growth remains steady and understandably human-like.

A strong book in a new series of magic, dragons and legendary creatures, this book is unafraid to ask deep questions about morals, ethics and bias. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold.jpg

The Song from Somewhere Else by A. F. Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold (9781681194011, Amazon)

Released July 4, 2017.

This novel for middle grades combines fantasy with a touch of horror. Frank’s best friends are away for most of the summer, so she doesn’t have much to do. Her father is always sending her out of the house to play, unaware that she has been targeted by a group of boys and is being bullied. When they toss her backpack into a patch of nettles, another boy steps in. Nick has always been teased at school and doesn’t have any friends. He’s bigger than the other kids and talks almost like an adult. Frank isn’t sure she wants to be friends with Nick, but when she visits his home she hears strange music that makes her feel stronger and better. Frank snoops enough to find out Nick’s secret, one that is dangerous and puts them both at risk.

Harrold’s writing is exceptional. He writes about bullying with deep perception and understanding. The bullying scenes are intense and underscore the feeling of powerlessness combined with cruelty. Harrold also captures the way that one can think one thing in the gut in another in the head. Frank has a lot of difficult choices to make in the book, ones that put her own well-being before that of others. It’s particularly nice that Frank is not a great heroine. She manages to betray people, think of deserting them, wonder whether she should just walk away, and yet in the end is exactly the heroine that we all need to be. She is often not really likable either, and that makes the book work particularly well somehow.

Pinfold’s illustrations are swirls of darkness and shadow on the page. They menace and threaten, just like the bullies in the neighborhood. There’s an aspect of danger to all of them. They manage to be both intimate and distant, a dance of being the victim or the observer.

A novel that combines horror and fantasy into one dark summer, this book is simply amazing. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Bloomsbury.

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton

The Secret of Black Rock by Joe Todd-Stanton (9781911171256, Amazon)

Released June 13, 2017.

Erin grew up near a large fishing town but she wasn’t allowed to head out into the sea herself, because of the danger. The huge rock outside of the town was the subject of many frightening stories that spoke about how it moved from place to place and was huge and sharp. Erin tried to hide on her mother’s fishing boat, but Archie, her dog, always found her. When Erin finally managed to sneak aboard, thick fog settled in and the boat almost ran into the black rock! As the boat veered away, Erin fell into the sea. As Erin sank farther and farther, she discovered the secret of Black Rock and realized that it was up to her to protect the rock.

This picture book celebrates the wildness of the sea and its incredible lifeforms. The secret of Black Rock takes this book from one of reality to fantasy in one revelation. The reveal is done beautifully, the page dark except for Erin and the fish. The writing is simple and allows the story to play out swiftly on the page.

The illustrations are exceptional. Black Rock’s emergence as a full character in the book is done particularly well as are the bright and varied fish that live around it. The pages with half of the scene underwater are particularly effective and truly show the magic of the story. The color palette between the sea and the rock and then the harbor and the humans are strikingly different and used very effectively during the stand off as well.

A lush and lovely picture book that invites children to find their own magic in the world. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Flying Eye Books.

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (9781419724848, Amazon)

Neverfell was discovered as a child in the depths of Grandible’s cheese caverns. She had no memory of where she came from and for the next seven years spent her time solely with Grandible who insisted that if they did have a rare visitor that she cover her face. Neverfell knew she was hideous in some way, so she complied. Then one day, she discovered a way out of Grandible’s caverns and into the larger world of Caverna, a subterranean city whose wealth came from the magical items that could be produced there, like Grandible’s cheeses, perfumes that would make you irresistible and wines that could alter memory. Neverfell found herself in a world of people with faces that were taught and learned and that did not express the emotions they were feeling. Neverfell’s own face though did not do that, her expressions shifted with her feelings, something that made her unique and valuable, but also a threat.

This book was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2013 and has finally made its way to the United States. A new book from Hardinge is always a treat with her impressive world building and immense creativity. Entering Caverna is an adventure and the details and wonders found inside are wildly inventive and amazing. There is an intense richness to the writing, one that serves to suck you deep into the caverns and not want to emerge again for a long time. Hardinge mixes so many elements here that it’s amazing that it continues to be a story that not only makes sense but is entirely riveting.

Neverfell is an incredible protagonist and unique in the story. Still it is the world building here that kept my attention throughout the book. From the dark corners of cheesemaking to the green satin of the wealthy of society, from the menace of a master thief to the dominion of those who will retain power at all costs. From the insanity of the man who will not sleep to the slavery of the drudges. It is so complicated and so incredibly well done.

A masterpiece of fantasy writing, this book is rather like the True Delicacies of the novel, something that may change your life forever. Appropriate for ages 11-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean

Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray, Pagal Dhar and Anita Roy (9781481470575, Amazon)

This is an incredible collection of speculative short stories written by young adult authors from India and Australia. The authors worked in teams across the two countries, and the results are short stories, graphic shorts, and even a play. The quality of the collection is tremendous, showing a depth of understanding of what happens to women in our cultures and how that might play out in the future. There are stories where the women are in power and men are considered lesser, stories where women are just starting to take their rightful place, and others where the struggle is very much like it is today. Each has a ray of hope, a path forward if only we are brave enough to take it.

Readers of these short stories will love that the authors have longer books to explore. The voices here are rich and varied, still there is a sense of unity in this collection thanks to the overarching theme of women and girls and their rights. Make sure to read the final section of the book that speaks to the collaborations and how the authors worked together.

Entirely thoughtful, strongly progressive and profoundly feminist, this collection of short stories is exceptional. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.

 

A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay

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A Single Stone by Meg McKinlay (9780763688370)

Released March 14, 2017.

In a society entirely closed off from the rest of the world by mountains and fallen stone, Jena leads the line, a string of girls who can find the fuel in the mountains that allows their village to survive the winter. The Mothers watch over the village, deciding who is in the line, setting the rules and helping birth the babies. Girls are considered far more valuable than boys, since men are forbidden to enter the mountain at all. Girls must be tiny and petite, yet strong enough to brave the demands of climbing through tight passages in the stone. As Jena begins to learn more of the control that the Mothers have placed on everyone and the larger decisions they are making with no one knowing, she starts to have doubts about everything she has ever known.

McKinlay has written a wonderfully claustrophobic book with walls of stone that limit and surround everything and then the dangers of the blind travel through darkness and stone. Even as Jena figures out what is truly happening to the village, there is suffocating attention that adds to the pressure keg of a novel. The book has a brisk pace, deliberately impacted at times by the slow treachery of journeys into the mountain. This adds to the mounting tension of the book.

Jena is a strong female protagonist, willing to ask questions about her village. She is cast as a leader and yet also someone who is separate because her family has died even as her father tried to flee. Jena was taken in by another family and yet remains somewhat separate allowing her to naturally see things that others may have overlooked or missed. As more people are risked and die, Jena must find even more heroism inside her to confront those in control.

Strong writing and a delicious tension make this book a stand out teen fantasy. Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

My Valley by Claude Ponti

my-valley-by-claude-ponti

My Valley by Claude Ponti (9780914671626)

This imaginative picture book tells the story of the Twims, a type of creature that lives in a specific valley. One Twims narrates the book, explaining life in the valley. He lives in a House Tree up on the cliffs. He has many siblings, a mother and a father and two sets of grandparents. He plays games in the woods, watches all sorts of weather arrive, including once children falling from a house picked up by a hurricane. Twims use theater to get over feeling angry, have a cemetery with grave markers that speak to the interests of the Twims buried there, and enjoy the changes of each season.

First published in France, this book has a gorgeous otherworldly feel to it. It balances the wonder of these little creatures with the small details of their lives. It strongly reminded me of my childhood love for the Gnomes book by Wil Huygen. This new book touches those same emotions, the exploration of something small and clever, the beauty of a simple life and the magic inherent in it as well.

Ponti’s illustrations are lovely. He intersperses the image on the cover of the book throughout the book, focusing on the valley as it changes through different kinds of seasons and weather. The valley almost becomes so familiar that readers will identify with it themselves as each type of event makes it all the more spectacular. There are also the small details of the Twims’ lives, the floors of the House Tree, playing outside, and stories of events that had happened.

This unique picture book invites readers to imagine along with the author and delight in a new creature. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Elsewhere Editions.