Tempests and Slaughter – Tamora Pierce

With the Numair Cronicals, Pierce is doing what she does best, and is taking us back to school. But this time we are not learning to hit things with sticks, but Numair is learning how to practise magic. Not only Numair though, we are back with his closest friends, Osborne and Varice.

We don’t start with the fiercely competent Numair from the Daine books, but an awkward Arram Draper, who is sick when watching the gladiator games when his father comes to visit. But we follow him being escalated through the normal classes as an obviously extremely talented student.

“And magic depends on perfection,” Cosmos interputed.

I love that instead of making the teachers difficult people, for the most part Pierce makes them motivated good mentors, who share their research and work with a gifted boy, as long as he works. And work hard is what he does, what all three of them do to work out how to find their own places in the world.

How Ozorne is shaped through this period, instead of being a cruel tyrant this now becomes a tragic story arc to those of us who know its conclusion. His starting place is just to be a boy who wants his own home and a place to practice magic, and he is renowned as the boy who will never get to be emperor. He does not get the same safe supportive mentors as Draper, but instead is manipulated through his grief-stricken state.

I look forward to seeing where Pierce next takes this arc, and the Numair we know is being shaped from the boy Arram.


La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is one of my favourite rereads. Lyra’s journey is many things: a commentary on faith, a fantasy multiverse and a coming of age story.

La Belle Sauvage is a prequel, and opens in the setting of an unfamiliar pub. But we are swiftly moved into a world of Alethiometers, scholars and the Magesterium. The nostelgia trip is complete with dæmons, witches and gyptians too.

I loved this. Pullman’s fantasy world is as rich as ever, and he continues to explore the dynamics behind abuse of power and how that affects real people.

Saffy’s Angel – Hilary McKay

Saffy’s Angel is well-written young adult fluff. It has the bohemian arty family, an adoption, and a strict family to put the artists into context.

Fundamentally, Saffy discovers that she should inherit an angel, and most of the book revolves around her quest to try and recover it. But there are side plots, with sister Caddy’s torturous learning to drive with Michael Darling, the father who spends most of his time at his London studio and other adventures of the rest of the family.

There is lots of rich humour, with some children allowed to do what they want, and some much more constrained, and not a single one of them being set up to be taken seriously. It forms a nice light book, touching on serious topics. However I don’t feel any great need to read the other three in the series.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles (7 titles) – Isobelle Carmody

I was lent this series by a friend with a shared interest in young-adult fantasy series to entertain me as I recuperated from an episode of ill health that left me with a month to rest. They more than half-filled the box, but thankfully started as quite slim paperbacks that didn’t look as intimidating as the Red Queen does, with this paperback coming in at over 1100 pages.

The chronicles all stand well as individual books, but make a compelling longer arc as well. However as each book moved on, I felt increasingly like Elspeth had primarily been set an artificial quest rather than facing external issues until very close to the end. She also spends much of her time dependent on her guardian’s protections rather than her own skills and planning, to the extent that I wanted to read the guardian’s book as her story sounded much more interesting.

Even with a dreamworld linked to the real world, we also seemed to spend too much time there, and it was very much a revelations-style dreamworld. If I wanted to read a drugged nightmare then I would have started with a different type of book!

However the general world-building is brilliant, a genuinely post-apoplectic world where all modern technology has been lost into legends. How earlier miracles were worked is gradually being uncovered, and bigotry is challenged. Wars are fought, peace is negotiated and promises are (mostly) fulfilled.

Obernewtyn is a lot of lightweight escapist dystopian future fantasy. Worth reading for the world-building, as long as you aren’t looking for something that stands up to a critical read.

One – Sarah Crossan

One is a very adventurous book. Its the story of two conjoined twins, as they grow into themselves, told entirely in verse.

I like poetry, and this was well-paced, short poems interspaced with longer to move the story along. The choice to only ever hear one twin’s voice was well-chosen, giving us a view of Grace as her own person alone, even as she is never apart from Tippi.

As young adult fiction it shows two girls with difficult lives making choices and growing to share lives with others and move into the difficult word of alcohol and sex. I think it stood up well as a book without the final dilemma they are faced with. That dilemma was handled well, with the choices well-framed and the unexpected ending bringing a tear to my eyes.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

The premise of this book, that Death is telling a story is often forgotten throughout this book, only reaching in when Death touches Liesel’s life directly. Otherwise we see the world as a generic third-party narrator, following Liesel directly.

But it is a compelling tale, speaking of bravery, learning and compassion in a small town during the rise of Nazi Germany. Leisel relearns love and friendship in her foster home, as well as poverty and cruelty. And throughout the common theme is the stealing of books, and what that give to her.

Whilst the cover and the description did not make me pick this up with any degree of urgency, once I was a chapter in I needed to keep reading to find out Liesel’s fate.

Uprooted – Naomi Novik

I’ve previously read Novik’s Temeraire series, although apparently none since I began this blog. Unsurprising as although I enjoyed the concept, it got a little tedious towards the end. I was therefore glad to see her approaching new ideas, and new worldbuilding, so picked this up as soon as I saw it.

It has an intriguing start, with details gradually added to the world as it becomes clear how it diverges from our own. As we learn about Agnieszka she begins as a normal young woman, and gradually more is learned about the ever-present threat she, her valley and realm face. She of course is the key to tackle this, reluctantly at first, and then embracing it and all it means in true YA troupe style.

I do object to the romantic development in this – it felt unnecessary, forced and unethical. Why not just develop a good strong friendship bond instead? See the Pierce books for how this can work really well.

ETA: This is post 200! Given all the changes since I began this blog, its something I have maintained steadily for what feels like a long time. I’m glad to have my readers, and enjoy being part of the book-blogging community.

So You Want to Be a Wizard – Diane Duane

Nita is a stereotypical YA heroine. Chased by bullies, she seeks sanctuary in the library (because what else would appeal to bookworms). But there she finds a book to change her life, amongst the career advice she finds “So You Want to Be a Wizard“.

Of course, it is simply that book that enables her to change her life. To move into a previously unseen world where magic is real and there is a steady battle against evil entropy and death. It is a pleasingly modern urban fantasy world, where the settings are merely a step sideways from the world we know.

Its a well-paced book, ramping the tension up effectively to a satisfying end. Despite this, it leaves things sufficiently open to allow the series to continue. My only quibble is that I don’t like characters instantly becoming super-powered. Some development time and time for mistakes and weakness is good, especially for a book which is part of a longer series.

I’ll pick up the next and see how it goes…

The Circle Opens Quartet

In the background I’m still following Mark Reads, and we have just finished the Circle Opens quartet. I’ve loved the new journeys with the Circle of Magic characters, who are refreshingly committed to their own development and friendships, and being fourteen.

Circle of Magic

Time being what it is, the first few books are less fresh in my mind, and all I can think of is Shatterglass with Tris’s journey to become a mage-teacher, and take on adult responsibilites by choice.

If she had a motto it was “New learning couldn’t hurt anyone”

She of course finds the perfect student to tackle her own stubborness and we see how she has grown as a person from the Magic in the Weaving. She still has that hurt deep inside, but she has learnt what she can do in the world, and made a family of choosing to compensate for her earlier suffering.

“…My family deals in all kind of goods.” She smiled crookedly. “Except defective ones. Those they don’t handle very well”

The idea that a child left feeling such a way makes the progress Tris did is inspiring. That she is fictional just sets a template for others to follow.

Of course this book is primarily a murder mystery and about untangling Keth’s life, and letting him work out what his power permits. So there is glass magic, and playing with lightning and the odd new mage disaster. All the things I needed this book to be.

Niko is there too, being himself in the background. Not practical, but loving and supporting Tris as she develops a plan for who she will be as an adult.

When I first read them I was disappointed that the Circle kids were apart for the quartet. Now I understand just how perfect it is that they get the chance to find their own places in the world, safe in the knowledge that for each other they will always be home.

Love Lessons – Jacqueline Wilson

As a child and young teen Jacqueline Wilson was one of my favourite authors. I read her books as they appeared in the local town library or bookshop and one of my cherished possessions is the handwritten letter she wrote back to me when I was about 10. So when during discussion about the widespread opinion of her, commentators I know and respect were critical I was surprised and made a mental note of the title of the books which caused opposition.

Love Lessons is of course that book and the basic premise is Prue, a socially isolated 14 year old girl, starts at the local rough school where she doesn’t get on with anyone and “falls in love” with her art teacher, “Rax”. The problematic aspect is the degree to which this is reciprocated and the way the fallout from this is presented. Rax constantly acknowledges that what is going on is irresponsible  of him but at no stage does he actually stop anything from happening in an effective manner. Any reasonable adult reading of this quite clearly gives the viewpoint that he is grooming her, and at the end when them running away together is in the balance its shown how well he did this.

In addition the school as ruling institution presumes that it is Prue who has led her teacher astray so must be sent away from the school. There is no acknowledgement that as her teacher and an adult he had the responsibility to prevent this from happening and instead encouraged it. As young adult fiction I would expect a bit more sympathy for Prue and at least some reflection that she’s happy with the outcome, rather than a “by chance” lifting of stress and a feeling that she’s been punished.

Interestingly Wilson handled this much better with Girls In Love where there was another crush on an art teacher but he sensitively and kindly reinstated boundaries. Its a shame that she then went on to write this.