Saturday, June 27, 2015

Deep Secret

I'm still making my way through the full backlist of Diana Wynne Jones. Since I was participating in the 48 Hour Book Challenge last weekend, I decided it was a good time to tackle Deep Secret. I've owned this book for a while but hadn't gotten to it yet. It was an excellent book. Not surprising.

Rupert Venables is a young Magid. As a young Magid, it is his job to look after the Empire of Koryfos. It always goes to the youngest Magid because no one else wants it. Upon returning from a trip there that fills him with as much disgust as possible, Rupert is faed with the death of his mentor. Since Magids must be replaced as quickly as possible, Rupert (who is again the default Magid responsible for this) begins his search with names Stan left him. After meeting the person he thought was his most likely candidate, Maree Mallory, and immediately taking a dislike to her, he begins a working to draw all his final candidates to one place and time so he can evaluate them all at once. The place is the Hotel Babylon and the time is a sci-fi fantasy convention taking place there over a weekend. Much to Rupert's exasperation none of the other candidates are up to snuff. Maree turns up at the convention as well and turns out to be not as bad as Rupert feared. And because everything has to happen at once, the Empire of Koryfos is falling apart after a mass assassination. No one knows who the next ruler is supposed to be, and they need Rupert's help. Now Rupert has more than one magical working in the process and may have be in way over his head.

Diana Wynne Jones excelled at writing a certain type of hero. That type of hero happens to be the type I love to read about which always makes her books fun for me. Rupert fits nicely with the others I love but he also has his own individual personality. He is arrogant and a little to sure of himself. He spirals into panic so fast when everything starts coming down around him, and it's quite delightful. I did like that he knew when he needed to get help, and that he had a supportive community willing to help him when he needed it. The narrative switches between Rupert and Maree. Maree is an excellent foil for Rupert, and her naive and innocent, yet equally annoyed perspective on everything that is happening is a great counter-point to his frustrated, overwhelmed, harried, pessimistic one. Maree's younger cousin, Nick, is also a pivotal character and is a DWJ hero in training. He is basically a younger version of Rupert, a fact Rupert is hilariously unaware of for a good deal of the story and has to have pointed out to him by more than one person. I loved all three of them and all the supporting characters.

One thing I love about Diana Wynne Jones is that her novels defy age categorization.  We need more novels that do this. Does this book work as YA? Yes. Does it work as adult? Yes. Could even work as a MG? Yes. It is good fantasy for any age reader who loves stories with magic, centaurs, zany capers, and humor. What I really like about Deep Secret is how it celebrates but also pokes fun at the industry that has built up around speculative fiction. There are some problematic aspects in this (fat jokes that are unnecessary), but for the most part it is done well and balances on a fine line. Basically in the end I loved this because it was fun and complex at the same time. It has serious moments, but it never takes itself seriously overall. I'm looking forward to reading the companion novel, The Merlin Conspiracy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cover Love: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Cover Love is a meme hosted by Shae on Thursdays at Shae Has Left the Room.

My Pick This Week:
Lo-Melkhiin killed three hundred girls before he came to her village, looking for a wife. When she sees the dust cloud on the horizon, she knows he has arrived. She knows he will want the loveliest girl: her sister. She vows she will not let her be next.
And so she is taken in her sister's place, and she believes death will soon follow. Lo-Melkhiin's court is a dangerous palace filled with pretty things: intricate statues with wretched eyes, exquisite threads to weave the most beautiful garments. She sees everything as if for the last time.But the first sun rises and sets, and she is not dead. Night after night, Lo-Melkhiin comes to her and listens to the stories she tells, and day after day she is awoken by the sunrise. Exploring the palace, she begins to unlock years of fear that have tormented and silenced a kingdom. Lo-Melkhiin was not always a cruel ruler. Something went wrong.
Far away, in their village, her sister is mourning. Through her pain, she calls upon the desert winds, conjuring a subtle unseen magic, and something besides death stirs the air.\
Back at the palace, the words she speaks to Lo-Melkhiin every night are given a strange life of their own. Little things, at first: a dress from home, a vision of her sister. With each tale she spins, her power grows. Soon she dreams of bigger, more terrible magic: power enough to save a king, if she can put an end to the rule of a monster.

This cover is so dark which causes the light it does have to contrast and shine that much brighter. It fits with the story being told. I also love the words and girl rising up into the sky. I have been waiting a long time for a good retelling of Scheherazade and I adore E.K. Johnston's book so I'm hoping the contents of this one are as great as the cover. (I'm sure they will be.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Uprooted

I typically don't review books that are considered adult books on the blog. I think this is a first. I've always used the blog as resource for students and parents. But Uprooted by Naomi Novik has enough crossover YA appeal I'm making an exception. Also I just want to rave about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.


This is how Agnieszka's story begins. She is one of the girls who will be lined up as a potential companion for the Dragon. She is not angry but not overly worried. Everyone knows what type of girl the Dragon chooses and she is not it. Her best friend Kasia is. Their entire lives Kasia and Agnieszka have prepared for the day when Kasia will leave and Agnieszka will be left behind. Except that's not what happens. In a startling turn of events-before Agnieszka can even begin to process it-she's the chosen one and in the Dragon's tower. He doesn't even give her time to say good-bye. Agnieszka stumbles through her first weeks alternating between fear, anger, and sadness. The Dragon, Sarkan, just seems overall fed up and exasperated with her. Soon Agnieszka realizes the strange magical interactions she is having with Sarkan are unique and something the other girls were not subjected to because she is a witch and she needs to be trained. Agnieszka isn't exactly amendable to the Dragon's training though and figure her own unique way of performing magic, one she can intertwine with his to make them both stronger. Before her training can get very far though, the dangerous Wood begins its first moves in a plan to bring down the entire kingdom. Agnieszka finds herself in the middle of a web of political intrigue and old dark magical debts to be paid. 

This is everything I want in a fantasy novel written in such a way as to make it absolutely perfect. 

CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS! CHARACTERS!
Agnieszka is a wonderful heroine. Awkward and clueless in the beginning (as is anyone who is suddenly thrown into a life they never contemplated living), she soon discovers how to wield her new found power and figure out how to manage Sarkan at the same time. As the novel progresses she becomes more bold, assertive, and a force to be reckoned with. Her arc is truly wonderful and watching her grow is so much fun. She is clever from the beginning, and even though she is also naive, she learns so fast. And she does not suffer fools lightly. 

Kasia is equally wonderful but in different ways. She has been trained to be brave. She has been trained to be the one who leaves not the one who is left behind and quickly has to adjust her entire way of thinking and deal with the fallout. Then her entire world is rocked even further, ripping her out of the life she was just adjusting to and sending her down a terrifying new road. 

Sarkan is exactly the kind of hero I love. He comes across as a surly jerk, but it's because he is a lone nerdy wizard who has no idea how to socially interact with others. He's also a little vain and likes the comforts of life. He doesn't like change, and doesn't bend to it easily, but is able to when it is required. 

Then there are all the minor characters, each of who stand out as important, three dimensional, real people. I cared about every single person in this book even the ones who were at odds with Agnieszka and co. 

AMAZING RELATIONSHIPS!
There are so many great relationships in this book, both major and minor. The friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia is beautiful. They see the worst each in other-not intentionally but it happens-and they emerge on the other side of it stronger. There is not much they won't do for each other. I love seeing amazing nuanced female friendships and this one is particularly well rendered.

I have lots of feels about the relationship between Agnieszka and Sarkan, which developed exactly as I hoped it would. I love how quickly they found equal footing with each other, and that Agnieszka was not dependent on him for much for long. Her magic is so different from his, and while he bristles at having to accept this new view that it's possible, he adjusts rather quickly to seeing her as an equal he can trust. Everything about how their connection unfolded was just perfect to me, and I loved its resolution as well. They are both powerful and important and together they make a great team.

I loved how much you could infer about all the other relationships in the book too. Parental, sibling, community, working, all of it is so well done. Form the small villages to the King's court in the capital you can see the threads of respect that bind people, and the discord that keeps some apart. It is woven subtly in to the text too without it having to be explained.

PLOT AND POLITICS AND INTRIGUE AND MAGIC
The plot is a complex mix of magic and politics. My favorite kind of fantasy novel. There are fairy tale elements woven through it as well. It is a complicated and dark story with varying shades of gray. And not everyone gets the end they necessarily deserve which I always like to see because it is so true to life. I like how the book highlighted the complicated consequences of violence, war, and surfeit of ambition that can be easily manipulated to go astray. The way Novik pulled everything together in the end and made me believe the outcome was pure artistry. 

I reread several parts of the book as soon as I finished because I didn't want to leave it behind. This is going to be a go to comfort reread for me. I can see that already. (I actually knew it about 50 pages in.) I'm so glad I went ahead and bought it when the library copy was taking to long for me to wait for. 

Sunday, June 21, 2015

48 Hour Book Challenge End Post

I still technically have an hour, but since we leave for church in 15 minutes, I'm finished. I did not get nearly as much in as I wanted to. Considering the reading slump I just came out of, I'm just happy I was able to read as much as I dd while enjoying it.

Hours Reading/Reviewing: 13 hours

Social Media Time: 1.5 hours

Books Read: 4 (Uprooted, The Thief reread, Mechanica, Deep Secret)

Pages Total: 2,117

Reviews for Uprooted and Deep Secret coming later this week. Here are my quick Goodreads thoughts on Mechanica


Friday, June 19, 2015

48 Hour Book Challenge First Update

My first 12 hours are up and my stats are seriously lame because life intervened a bit today.

I read/reviewed: 6.5 hours

Social Networking/Commenting: .5 hours

So that's just a total of 7 hours.

Pages read 435

Because I read only one book and I'm not even ashamed to say that because I reread several parts of it immediately after finishing. And wrote a gushing review which you can read on Thursday. Uprooted is a favorite forever for me now. I LOVED it. I still don't really want to move on which will make continuing this challenge difficult....ugh. Will persevere.