Mini!Reviews, February 2011

Sooo many to review! I’ve been getting lots and lots of books for myself, and streamlining my reading process. I also have been reading enough to switch back into speed-reading, so I really cover a lot of ground in a hurry.

YA first!

Demon King, by Cinda Williams Chima
Ok, love love love. This one was recommended to me as someone to study up on if I was interested in YA. I’m glad I did. I love these books.

It’s a series of 7, I believe. Demon King is the first one. Former streetlord Han, Spirit-Clan member Dancer and Princess Raisa stumble across evidence that the ancient peace between wizards and Clan is in danger of breaking. Each of them lands in their own danger and suffers the consequences of standing up to the Bayars, who have a new order in mind.

This is classic fantasy, through and through. But the details make it unique: a solid street-slang, a world based more on–from what I can tell-on the Western US (does skunk cabbage GROW anywhere else?) than on Europe, and a mix of cultures and religious.

The characters are solid and believable, the voice is easy to read without being ‘prose lite’, and the pace is consistent. I’m a nut for details, and Chima delves deeply into the nitty-gritty without losing the reader. I’m about 2/3s of the way through the 2nd one, Exiled Queen, and already plotting to pick up the rest very, very soon. It’s a good read, and shows no sign of bogging down. Definitely recommend.

Eon, by Allison Goodman

It’s a book about DRAGONS. Do you really expect me to be objective? REALLY?
Ok. Right.

Eon is a girl pretending to be a boy so she can become a DragonEye. There are, of course, many, many dangers inherent in this, and I’m pretty sure she stumbles into every possible one.

Anyways, Eon and its sequel, Eona, are huge books. Seriously. Very thick. There are a few places where I feel the thickness wasn’t necessarily needed, but it wasn’t enough to bother me. I’ve been told this might be because there are DRAGONS. (Yes, Erika has to deal with this regularly.)

The culture in the series is based on traditional Chinese myth and culture. The world is beautiful. Again, the details are amazing. What’s more, the details themselves, the ones Goodman has chosen to include, lend to the flavor of the setting. Example: the Story Robe ‘A Summer Waterfall Brings Harmony to the Soul’. Such flavors are unique in fantasy, although I would be happy to see them become more common.

I only had one major quarrel: I figured out the twist a long, LONG time before the main character did. So I sat there and repeatedly ~facepalmed~ with the ‘c’mon, you should KNOW this!’. However, I’m known for knowing a little bit about DRAGONS! and a decent amount about Chinese myth, so perhaps not everyone would recognize the big signs.

Did I like it? I read it in one day, if that tells you anything. And it really is a big book. So yeah. I like! (DRAGONS.)
(Hi Erika…)

Graceling, by Kristin Cashore

Note to self: do not take YA books for your sole reading material on long flights. You read too fast.

Our heroine in Graceling is Gifted with the ability to kill better than anyone else. Feared and shunned by her countrymen, she must stand up to her abusive uncle and move on to find her own feet.

Graceling was fun. The magic in it really felt new and very, very cool. The consequences of having power were well-played, too. The voice is beautiful.

My issue comes with the surly girl finding her soul mate. I’m *sorry*, but I’m tired of this. I want books where the girl isn’t ‘tamed’ by some pretty man with amazing powers of empathy. Maybe my cynicism is showing through again. But this is part of what I loved about Eon and Demon King: sure, there’s romance. But there isn’t A Romance. I’m tired of romances being in my books. I want girls who kick ass WITHOUT a guy. Or what about 2 girls? It just felt like the romance overwhelmed what would have been a journey I could deeply identify with.

Overall, I liked this enough that I’d do it all over again, but it isn’t a favorite. What? I *really* don’t like romance.

Silver Phoenix, by Cindy Pon

The titular character flees home to escape an older man who is pressuring her to marry him. Targeted by monsters of all sorts, she winds up traveling with two brothers. Her mission is to bring her father home from court and help her companion find his history. Her destiny is something much, much more.

Also beautifully written. And she knows her food. Hello, foodie here! I think this was the simplest of the books I’m reviewing here. It is self-contained, always moving forward, and doesn’t meander into lots of side-plots. For some reason, this seemed like it would have been a lovely graphic novel. There’s a lot of imagination here, and things like the chariot and the celestial kingdoms are simply begging for illustration.

It is, however, also the lightest read of the ones here. I found myself wishing there was a bit more meat on the bone. I’ll pick up the sequel though, because I’m hoping she goes out into the wide world and finds more monsters!

The Good Neighbors, by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

I ‘met’ Naifeh a few years ago at Dragon*Con. I hadn’t heard of him before, and I’d been wanting to find some of his work. When Barry gave me this book, it was perfect!

Naifeh’s art is incredible. He has a great eye for detail, and a lush, intricate style, perfectly suited to Black’s writing.

And need we say anything at all about Holly Black’s ability to tell a story? No, we don’t. Just go find the book.

Troll’s Eye View, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

A sweet little anthology of YA stories from Nix, Gaiman, Link, Yolen, Beagle, Cadnum, Kushner and more. It takes traditional fairy tales and focuses on the monsters and villains. Clever, wicked and sweet, this is probably my favorite twisted fairytale anthology to date. It was also an introduction to several wonderful authors I hadn’t encountered before.

Going Bovine, by Libba Bray

When you’re dying of a weird illness, why not take the punk angel up on her offer? Might as well save the world, right? What else have you got to do? And Viking gods turned into lawn gnomes are only one of the more normal things along the way.

Disclosure: I’d never have picked this book up off of a shelf. It just doesn’t look like my type of thing. So when Barry gave it to me, I wasn’t sure. The description sounded interesting, but would it pan out?

Ohhhh yes. There’s a reason this author is a NY Times bestseller. A while back, I discussed how often ‘adult’ speculative fiction seems to lack the heart that YA can have. I believe I was referring specifically to BORDERTOWN at the time. Going Bovine is all heart. Not in a sappy, cheesy way. But for all the humor, crazy hijinks and surrealism, this is one of the most down-to-earth, honest things I’ve read. Libba doesn’t preach and she doesn’t paint youth with nostalgia or sugar-coat it. Being a high schooler sucks. Dying sucks. The end of the world sucks. Reality sucks. It’s also the most amazing, breath-taking ride in the world.

I’m not going to give you more than that, because I think books like this tell each person a different story, and you should go find your own.

And that’s all I’m up for tonight, folks. Hey, look, I’ve read 18 books in the last 40-ish days and I’ve had 3 hours of sleep and a stressful day. Cut me some slack!

Coming soon, Mini!Reviews on:

Firefly Rain, by Richard Dansky
2-4 issues of Electric Velocipede, edited by John Klima
The Adamantine Palace, by Stephen Deas
Wizards anthology

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