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Tag: YA Fantasy

READING THE TBR, DAY 91: Tess of the Road (2018) by Rachel Hartman

As with many fields of artistic endeavour, sometimes an author will improve over time, and with others their debut novel completely dazzles and then their subsequent works never live up to that first blazing success.

Such is proving to be the case with Rachel Hartman, whose first novel, Seraphina — a YA novel featuring some very unusual dragons — was among my very favourite releases from 2012, but the sequel to which, Shadow Scale, failed to truly live up to its promise, and now this third romp in the same universe, but centred on Seraphina’s horrid half-sister Tess, is just a yawn and a snooze and an all-around disaster.

I should have stopped reading after the opening chapters. I definitely should have stopped reading after they way Tess drunkenly devastated her sister’s marital prospects. And I cannot believe I kept reading after she set off on a road trip in familiar Fantasy trope .

I guess I wanted to give Hartman a chance. After all, it was certainly interesting, the way she gave us an utterly unlikable heroine with such a dark past, and how the larger narrative explored women-as-currency, as well as giving us a very different perspective on the heroine of the earlier books. But these highlights did nothing to mitigate against the many, many lows of a boring journey across a boring world, only slightly enlivened by the arrival of her old friend Pathka, who brings with him some more of the unusual dragon lore in which this world is steeped.  

Such a disappointment. I doubt I will ever pick up another book by this author again. I really hate to see such early potential vanish under the weight of ineptitude — both authorial and editorial.

Bye, Tess. And good riddance. 

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TBR DAY 91: Tess of the Road (Tess #1)by Rachel Hartman  
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: No!

READING THE TBR, DAY 73: Department Nineteen (2011) by Will Hill

My friend Sara recommended this book to readers of Geek Speak Magazine, back when that was a thing that existed and for which we wrote reviews, and since I admire Sara’s tastes in almost all things (her preference for Star Wars over Star Trek notwithstanding), when I saw it for sale a couple of years later, in hardcover but at a steep discount at one of those remainder bookstores in which I spend way too much time, I thought it worth the outlay of $7.

The first observation I would make of this book is that it is very long. For a YA novel, especially so — it’s over 500 pages, and they are not large print, as I had kind of assumed when first I saw it, knowing the book’s target audience. It doesn’t drag or anything, the pacing is actually quite zippy, and the 500+ pages gallop along pretty quickly. But it is quite an investment of time, which at first didn’t seem like it was going to be worth it. The story takes quite a while to get going.

But once it does, once we are thrust into a dark, often legitimately terrifying, world of literary monsters (Victor Frankenstein, Professor Van Helsing, the gang’s all here), and our young hero Jamie is battling against the stern director of Department Nineteen in order to save his mother from an insane, bloodthirsty vampire, the heft of the novel is no longer a factor, as every scene sets the heart racing and the blood pumping and it all just absorbs you in its mystical, blood-laden depths.

I should not have been surprised at how much I enjoyed this book — Sara’s recommendation and all — but I truly did, and am eager to seek out its four sequels. I’ll need some time before I do, though. This book genuinely scared me. There is a scene on an island that will definitely engender more than one nightmare. Usually, I don’t like being scared, and it is a little humiliating that it happened to me due to a YA book. But in this case, I am so impressed with the novel’s interesting take on the monsters-among-us underground-government-department thing, as well as its coming-of-age vampire-hunting fractiousness, that I will risk being frightened silly because I am so eager to see what comes next. The last time that happened to me, it was Stranger Things, and I couldn’t watch it alone. But a book is a wholly solitary experience, for the most part, so I will just have to toughen up. 

I mean, if Jamie can do it…

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TBR DAY 73: Department Nineteen (Department 19 #1) by Will Hill 
GENRE: YA Fantasy, YA Alternate History, YA Steampunk
PUBLISHED: 2011
TIME ON THE TBR: ~6 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer
KEEP: Probably not.

READING THE TBR, DAY 46: Mister Monday (2003) by Garth Nix

I bought this book, and the other six in the series, for $3 each at a supermarket in Singapore. I took them with me to Sydney, to Auckland, then back to Singapore, then to Atlanta, and then at last brought them home with me to Melbourne, three years after buying them. Having invested so much of my always precious baggage allowance in these books for such a long time, I was really hoping they were worth it.

I think that’s why I’ve never actually read them. I was scared they wouldn’t be.

Well, if Mister Monday is any indication, I used my suitcase space wisely. What a stunningly original and utterly bizarre world Nix has created here, in this Middle Grade fantasy series about a boy who is thrust into an alternate world by sheer chance (I think?) and ends up being the only one who can save it. Of course. Okay, so maybe the plot isn’t as original as the world.

In fact, given that our young hero’s name is Arthur Penhaligon, I’m assuming that he is based on King Arthur, and yeah, you know how much I love Arthurian myth. But that is the worst part of the book (and, I hope, series), the rest is filled with breezily impossible people and impossible places and a strong, capable heroine in Suzy Blueshoes, a denizen of the weird world in which Arthur so precipitously finds himself, and a deity who is female and is betrayed by her adjutants. So there’s religious allegory, as well.

There is a lot of action in this book, and once it gets going it is quite exhilarating — for its target audience, I am sure the book is a total thrill ride. (Though, definitely confusing, and how all the magic of the world of the House — the alternate dimension — works is anyone’s guess.) I liked it a lot, am very worried about the world outside the House, with Arthur’s hodgepodge of a fused family living amidst the threat of plague and such. But it is Arthur’s quest to understand the Will of the Architect (goddess) of the many worlds and save her from her power-hungry, sinful (as in, Seven Deadly Sins-ful) lieutenants that is at the heart of the book, and, I assume, series.

I enjoyed this one enough, and am curious enough about what happens, that I’ll definitely be jumping back into it soon. Very pleased I liked it. Otherwise, all those air miles these books took with me would have been a huge regret.

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TBR DAY 46: Mister Monday (Keys to the Kingdom #1) by Garth Nix
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2003
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 10 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Carrefour, Singapore.
KEEP: Probably not. I’ll pass it on to a suitable pre-teen.

READING THE TBR, DAY 40: The Last Dragonslayer (2010) by Jasper Fforde

I fell in love with Jasper Fforde with the 2001 release of The Eyre Affair, the first novel in his Thursday Next series. The alternate history version of 1985 Wales therein gives us a world in which long-dead authors are the subject of heated gang violence, long-extinct animals can be had a pets, and it is possible to enter and interact with literary worlds.  It is insane, it is genius, it is endlessly entertaining.

The Last Dragonslayer — which I bought on its release in 2010, and which has languished on my TBR ever since, for some reason — is unrelated and yet is more of Fforde’s surreal alternate history, this time giving us an England with ancient kingdoms still intact, magic in the world (but on the wane) and a real live dragon. There, we meet teen orphan and predestined Dragon Slayer, Jennifer Strange, who must stand up to the King of Hereford and his cronies, fend off the constant interest of reporters and advertisers, while also running a business (!) and trying to protect the dragon from false allegations from those who want to claim his land. 

It takes a while to really get settled into this parallel dimension, which gave me a wonderful flashback to the early puzzlement and then utter delight engendered by Thursday Next’s world. In many ways, this book is just Thursday Lite, but it does end up having its own purpose, and its own trenchant observations about humanity, and it even gets quite exciting in its final third, which carries the tale through on a wave of equal amusement and adrenaline.

I really liked this book, even if I didn’t love it, and I will certainly be looking into the sequels. Probably in less than the eight years or so it took me to get around to reading this one. 

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TBR DAY 40: The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
GENRE: YA Fantasy/Alternate History
PUBLISHED: 2010
TIME ON THE TBR: ~ 8 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 20: The Iron Knight (2011) by Julie Kagawa

You know what made The Iron Knight the best book of this series so far? Almost no Meghan. Heroine and main POV of the first three books, here she is effectively sidelined after she so spectacularly took possession of the Iron Realm in the last one (it’s a thing; just pretend you know what that means) and was forced to part from her Dearest Love and Only Thought She Ever Has EVER, Ash, prince of the fae.

But Ash is equally obsessed with Meghan, and so this book is taken up with him attempting to find a way into the Iron Realm to be with her. Except! The only way he can do that is to gain a soul. (Why don’t fae have souls? What even ARE souls? And what do souls have to do with anything, anyway? Oh, silly human, don’t ask such impertinent questions. Just watch some Buffy the Vampire Slayer and take it as read that in order to be a real person you need a soul. Period.) 

Ash, in company of Robin Goodfellow, who also loves Meghan — so much that he helps Ash try to get to her; selfless and adorable, he deserves so much better — and the snarky Grimalkin, whimsical kitty-cat guide, along with some friends old and new, spends the book undergoing tests to prove himself worthy, and has a couple of big decisions to make, especially when he is confronted with the reality of his Perfect Dead Girlfriend, the dreary Ariella.

It’s all very exciting, there are many twists and turns and terrors to face, and between it all, Ash almost has us convinced that Meghan is worth all this trouble. Then we see her again and, well, no. Pah. Meghan. She’s worse than Ariella, almost. Turns out Ash has a type.

And with this, the fourth book, the Iron Fey series is at last complete, so hurrah for that! There is a follow-up trilogy, The Iron Fey: Call of the Forgotten, all about Ethan Chase, Meghan’s younger brother, whose abduction in the first book began all this wackiness… but yeah, nah. I think I’m done.

Bye, Nevernever! I’ll never, never see you again. And I’m cool with that.

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TBR DAY 20: The Iron Knight (Iron Fey #4) by Julie Kagawa
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2011 
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No.

READING THE TBR, DAY 19: The Iron Queen (2011) by Julie Kagawa

It is a truth of Fantasy novels that one can just add an apostrophe and a character’s name becomes infinitely more exotic. In The Iron Queen, we learn our broody, icy hero Ash’s full name — Ashallyn’darkmyr Tallyn — and well, good thing the apostrophe is there, or that would have been one boring and pedestrian moniker to saddle on a fae prince.

(I have to admit, I am a sucker for an exoticized Fantasy — or, it must be said, Science Fiction — name, and apostrophes are my favourite way to do it. So when I read this name, Ash got forty percent hotter. I have no excuse.)

The Iron Queen itself, meanwhile, is at least forty percent better than its lacklustre preceding title, and even a step up from the first book in the series, which I really quite enjoyed. It gives us depth and breadth to the fantastical fae world in which we dwell, and also — crucially — makes of our heroine Meghan Chase a far, far less want-to-slap-her-across-the-face first person heroine than previous adventures suggested she could ever become. Sure, she still spends a lot of time sighing wistfully over her man, the aforementioned — and in the book, constantly mentioned — Ash, and she still isn’t very nice to her WAY BETTER THAN HER best friend Robbie aka Robin Goodfellow aka Puck, but she makes sense, some solid decisions, and a major sacrifice in here, which makes me like her.

Like, astonishingly a lot.

Still, she remains far from my favourite character — the series does not need her. I would read a whole spin-off adventure about Grimalkin, the talking fae cat who is disdainful and uppity, selfish and mercurial, vicious and sly, but also honourable and lovable. (So, a cat.)

I’d like him even more if he was named G’rimalkin. Grim’alkin, maybe? But again, that is my issue.

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TBR DAY 19: The Iron Queen (Iron Fey #3) by Julie Kagawa
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2011 
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No.

READING THE TBR, DAY 18: The Iron Daughter (2010) by Julie Kagawa

When last we left sixteen-year-old Meghan Chase (for me, it was yesterday!), she had just been summoned back into the fairy land of Nevernever by the hot but snide fairy prince Ash, son of Queen Mab of the Winter Court. For those who don’t know the popular fairy lore as established in Urban Fantasy fiction of the past couple of decades, there are two Royal Courts among these sprites and pixies — the Summer Court, most famously run by Oberon and Titania (see A Midsummer Night’s Dream), and the Winter Court, ruled by Queen Mab (another Shakespeare reference, mentioned in Romeo and Juliet). 

But in the Iron Fey series, there is a third realm, the Iron Court, and in this series’ first installment, our Awkward and Insecure Misfit Teen Heroine killed its diabolical king and took his power. (Of course.) Here, she is in the Winter Court, and Ash, her erstwhile love interest, not only pretends they’ve barely met but is actively, aggressively awful to her — but still she loves him so! She cries and worries about him and is infatuation incarnate; the worse he treats her, the more fascinated she becomes.

It’s hard to read, but mostly because it’s such an accurate portrait of heightened teenage “love” that it is utterly cringeable. 

He, meanwhile, is obsessed with his dead ex, who was apparently Perfect in Every Way, and not only does Meghan have to hear all about that, but she also has to try to track down a missing sceptre than controls the weather (oh yeah, there’s a fairy land plot here, not just TEEN ANGST ALL THE TIME) and take time out of her busy schedule to totally mess with her best friend’s feelings by going full Bella-and-Jacob on him — when at last he shows up. Book, why does it take over a hundred pages for you to Robbie? Robbie is your best character! 

Well, him and Ironhorse.

Did I like The Iron Daughter? Um… no? Yes? Kind of? I definitely did not like Meghan very much in this book, she is bratty and weepy and almost unrecognisable from the much more kickass incarnation I met in the previous outing. (Again: yesterday.) It can be very difficult to get the full comfort-read experience from a book when you spend most of the time despising its protagonist. But then, I know real life teenagers who would definitely react just as outrageously as she does to most every situation and attack in this book — indeed, I probably was one myself, back in the dim dark. So, for all that she is THE WORST in so much of this, and you just want to scream at her to HAVE SOME DIGNITY FOR OBERON’S SAKE YOU ARE BETTER THAN THIS, you also have to acknowledge that half the reason she grates so much is because she is such a sobering mirror to look into.

And once we “learn” the reasons behind Ash’s perfidy (of course, we’d already guessed; we’ve read, well, anything before) and the sacrifice he makes for her at this book’s cliffhanger-y conclusion, at least it is enough to validate Meghan’s crazy, even if not excuse her passivity or treatment of poor, poor Robbie. 

Wow, I had more thoughts on that one than I’d predicted. Next up is The Iron Queen, and okay. Cool. Not spoilery at all there, title. 

I’m not gonna lie, I am very concerned.

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TBR DAY 18: The Iron King (Iron Fey #2) by Julie Kagawa
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2010 
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No.

READING THE TBR, DAY 17: The Iron King (2010) by Julie Kagawa

YA Fantasy is one of my favourite comfort-read genres, but its proliferation in the last decade or so has meant that keeping up with its many, many iterations has been nigh on impossible. This is the only explanation I have for having overlooked Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series for so long, a clever and tumultuous and angst-filled Midsummer Night’s Dream-infused fancy that is a prime example of its field.

Meghan Chase is our usual Awkward and Insecure Misfit Teen Heroine, who finds herself immersed in a fairyland — the fairy land, called here the Nevernever — after her younger brother is replaced with a changeling and she and her best friend Robbie (who, it turns out, is from said fairy land himself, and is also her secret protector) plunge into a magical world in order to save him. And, of course, meet the third member of their inevitable love triangle.

His name is Ash, by the way. Ash is mean in just the right kind of YA alphahole manner that all the good girls want. 

Sorry, Robbie. Game over. 

Yes, it is all very silly, and there are times when Meghan is just so infuriating in her Awkward and Insecure Misfit Teen-ness, but for all her missteps and misjudgments, her histrionics and her highly annoying incompetence, she feels very real in even this most unreal of circumstances. When she flips out about stuff, it is justified, and when she makes mistakes — so many, many mistakes — it makes sense, and when she triumphs in any way, she has mostly earned it.

There are six books in this series, and I have them all (they were a bargain find at an op shop, $4 the lot!), and I liked this one enough that I am ready to dive right into all of them, one after the other. On the one hand just to be done with them and get them off my TBR and out of my life, but on the other hand because I am genuinely invested, now, in this alterna-world of the fae. I especially want to know more about Meghan’s place in it. 

Oh, did I mention she’s the daughter of the Fairy King?

I didn’t? 

But this is YA Fantasy, after all. Surely that was implied?

And it is, in fact, half the reason the book was so enjoyable. Because sometimes a well-executed version of a well-worn and well-loved trope is all you need to switch off your busy mind and send you into sweet, sweet, mindless (midsummer night’s) dreams.  

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TBR DAY 17: The Iron King (Iron Fey #1) by Julie Kagawa
GENRE: YA Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2010 
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: No.