It’s been so long since I did mini-reviews of my recent reads (look at all that unintentional alliteration heh heh), in fact far too long to fit into all one post. This one shall therefore be the first of three, and shall focus on fantasy. And I shall not have any consistent format for each review, I shall just write stuff, according to ancient Sixty-Something Trees custom.
[I’m calling this “Summer Reads” because even though it goes through October…October was basically summer this year, let’s be real, it was like 85 degrees every day till the last week (what did I even leave the South for), and the trees didn’t all turn at once, and today when I left work it was snowing. So…fall? Fall? Who? Haven’t seen him.]
// Dragonwitch //
by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
My very informative summary:
In a sort of loose sequel to Starflower, Eanrin and Imraldera are unfortunately not the main characters but are at least major players. Some aristocrat kid has horrible dreams of how he’ll die. Some kid shows up from a distant land looking for…something. A forbidden romance blossoms between a scholar and a young noblewoman who just wants to be seen for who she is. Goblins invade the human world and I’m not sure what Etanun is doing, is he helping? or just making it worse?
I wouldn’t have read this book based on a summary of it, but it was actually pretty good.
I am here for:
-Eanrin. Eanrin the insufferable yet sometimes useful cat-poet-fairy-man is what I’m really here for. Especially Eanrin after the character development in the previous book but still being Eanrin and having his own…unique…foibles.
-Also Imraldera though. She’s the best and I love her library!
-Flipping the oppression system from the last book on its head! Smart and thematically meaty and yes.
-Alistair’s character arc
-The ending with Hri Sora and Etanun. That is just so sad. Part of it is awful-sad, part of it is beautiful-sad, all of it is SAD.
-THE ENDING WITH STARFLOWER AND HER SISTER. I was so happy. That was what I read the book in hope of, basically.
-Anne Elisabeth Stengle’s prose is, like, good?
Not so here for:
-The romance between the aforementioned scholar and young woman was b o r i n g. It was nice, I guess, but I was so bored. I think it’s because, although I liked the young noblewoman, I found the entire character of the scholar boring. And his growth/arc too obvious. Not badly written, just…something I’m tired of and that you have to write in a special way for me to be interested.
-I don’t know why, but Mouse got on my nerves.
-It wasn’t as good as Starflower. Which is the most ridiculous complaint ever, because how could you expect that? But I did expect that, my friends, and so I was (alas and alack) disappointed.
// Spindle //
by W. R. Gingell
This and the next four entries are a series (although each book can also stand alone, which is my favorite thing) of delightfully zany character-driven fantasy that I read within a very short span of time because it was honestly hard to stop. I love W. R. Gingell’s prose, I love her originality, and I LOVE her characters.
Love them. Cherish them. Adore them. Would die for them.
This one is a Sleeping Beauty retelling in the vein of Howl’s Moving Castle, wherein a motherly not-princess, the absent-minded wizard who halfway rescued her from a sleeping spell, the dog they rescue, a sardonic fellow named Melchior (who isn’t in it nearly enough), and Poly’s hair all team up to keep everyone safe from dastardly wizards, dastardly politicians, assassination attempts, and curses that stubbornly refuse to be broken. It’s so good, and I love Poly – she’s the motherly not-princess – and I love how she thinks. And I love how Gingell handles the complexities and nuances of different relationships. She writes people and their relationships with other people like real life, instead of like the simplified versions you normally find in fiction. I don’t know how to explain it better than that, but it is delightful.
And the banter is just…A+. It’s exactly what I want out of banter – a veritable flood of wit, just enough pettiness but not too much, and plenty of depth (whether in terms of character or plot) under the wordplay.
Gingell’s writing is so deft. She touches character development, worldbuilding, humor, emotional beats, and magic all so very lightly. But she writes in such a way that you find yourself listening for each of them – and treasuring them when they come, like the softer notes of a Beethoven piece.
That metaphor quite possibly made no sense. I just adore how she writes, is all.
// Blackfoot //
This one was my favorite one. Crazy, cuz it’s a sequel and stuff. Please read it so we can gush over it together, won’t you? Maybe it won’t hit you like it hit me (I…may have teared up at one point) (which, rude, LOTR took a lot of rereads to earn the ole misty-eyes routine, darn you Gandalf with your perfectly placed “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil”) (and maybe Johnny Tremain made me tear up the first time through, but at least there’s the excuse that death was involved), but even so it’s a fun time of a story: with a magic castle, an unusual pencil, and at least two sketchy wizards serving as the background material for a story about a girl and her talking cat.
I too have a story about a man and his talking cat, so I really appreciated that detail on a personal level.
Anyway, Annabel is an absolutely incredible character. Gingell can write female characters and she can write child characters and she can do it brilliantly.
Her relationship with Blackfoot is my favorite thing of possibly ever.
Also, a character from the first book got so much more page time in this book, and I for one was so happy because I loved this character so much. And there was a thing about this character’s mouth (not as weird as it sounds – although yes these books are odd, but that part really isn’t) in both books and I liked it so much.
And have I mentioned how good Gingell is at flawed, loveable characters and their interactions?
And have I mentioned that I almost cried?
// Staff & Crown //
WE STAN ISABELLA FARRAH IN THIS HOUSEHOLD. The character who runs rings around her enemies and practices benevolent deception by telling the exact truth (“How marvellous a thing is the exact truth, properly manipulated!” as a certain unfortunately-fictional English gentleman once put it while en route to renew his proposals to a certain remarkable American lady) has always been one of my favorite types, and Isabella is just exquisite. Charming, devious, elegant, fashionable, and loyal. She’s even at a disadvantage, having very little magic in a world of magic-users, which means she has to be very resourceful, which is also wonderful.
It’s just FUN, full of politics and spying at boarding school, and the friendship between Isabella and Annabel (which is the main focus of the book, though there’s also a romance) is my favorite thing.
// Masque //
Isabella is the protagonist of this one, which makes up for the rough start and the slightly gruesome murders. It is a funny, exciting Beauty and the Beast retelling (I love how that was worked in, just as I loved the Sleeping Beauty element in Spindle – Gingell does it so cleverly yet organically) with a villain reveal to the murder mystery that gave me shivers even though I saw it coming. That particular type of thing will just…never not give me shivers. Oh man.
// Clockwork Magician //
It’s probably good if you don’t hate time travel. And if you didn’t find Peter too awful of a kid in Blackfoot that you can’t stomach him as a main character. There’s at least one thing that still doesn’t make sense to me about my favorite character (Melchior; my favorite character is Melchior; I realize I haven’t mentioned that), but I’m not even going to try to think about it. I hate time travel.
// By These Ten Bones //
by Clare B. Dunkle
My very informative summary:
A girl named Maddie, who lives in a remote Scottish village in like…medieval times, I think, makes friends with a mysterious woodcarver boy. Also she has to save her village from a werewolf.
I am here for:
-The characters. They are just…sweet and simple and real. Maddie, Paul, and the priest in particular I adored.
-The setting! I would like to know if it was historically accurate, but I certainly bought it. Misty and sunny by turns, the slow warmth of harvest days and the biting chill of autumn evenings – I’d live in their village. I also loved how content Maddie was in her home.
-Oh hey, YA with good, alive parents
-The theology of some stuff
-The curse and how awful it was and how it was broken. The climax was GOOD.
-How the prose was simple, but a good simple, and worked well for the story
-I don’t actually know what, but something about this book was so lovely to me. I gave it to my little sister and she’s currently in the middle of it and loving it.
Not so here for:
-I mean…it had a slow start?
-I would normally say the werewolf element, because I can’t stand werewolves (don’t ask why, I don’t know), but that was actually one of the things I loved about it, so.
// Starsight //
by Brandon Sanderson
Okay, so the first book, Skyward, was basically Star Wars: A New Hope, and I didn’t realize just how many parallels there were until I started thinking about it recently. I won’t go into them (spoilers and all), but it’s not just a generally similar vibe; there are specific plot similarities and there are even exact counterparts to C3PO and R2D2 and I am not kidding. Which was all fine by me! I love Star Wars, Sanderson is an excellent writer, and Spensa and her pals were great fun to hang out with.
Well, so in this sequel we’ve moved to the next ultra-famous sci-fi story. Where Skyward was Star Wars, Starsight is Ender’s Game.
Which certainly explains why I liked it a lot less.
Despite it being…still really good. And expanding the universe in dizzying ways. Sanderson truly is an EXCELLENT writer.
// Return of the Thief //
by Megan Whalen Turner
I loved it. I must reread the whole series now. Bless Phresine and her stories. Gen is my son, Pheris is my son, Eddis is my role model, my heart is broken, how does Megan Whalen Turner WRITE tho
“Nahuseresh tells me I am not king. We’ll see if he really prefers the Thief.”
“That is it, Sophos. You have hit upon my greatest fear. Someone who named himself Bunny is going to outshine me on the battlefield.”
“It is like being a sheepdog who turns suddenly on the sheep,” [Eugenides] said. “It feels utterly right in the moment, never afterward. That’s why I wouldn’t let someone else send me into battle. I never wanted to fight until I believed it was necessary.”
People are no less mysterious than the gods.
// Boys of Blur //
by N. D. Wilson
The Mother laughed. “You would kill an old woman while her sons are away?”
Charlie nodded. “Seems like the best time.”
You ever go to the library and say to yourself, “What I need right now is a good book about zombies and envy and sugarcane and fatherhood and Grendel’s mother (like from Beowulf) and small-town football and courage?”
Me either, but N. D. Wilson delivered anyway. I really love that guy’s writing.
As the sun set over the Gulf of Mexico, two half brothers, one half sister, one step-second cousin, three moms, one former foster mother, and two stepdads raised glasses of wine and water and milk and cran-apple juice and root beer to the memory of a man who had hurt most of them.
But even out of him, good had come.
Well, as of me finishing this post, fall has stopped in for a brief visit. We had a lovely chat, and he hopes to be able to stay longer next time. Stay warm, you guys, enjoy the final flourishes of fall (such a drama queen), and read