Archive for May, 2016

 

Premise: In the four centuries since the mysterious, deadly “Threads” last threatened the planet, the dragonriders who fight the Threads have been scorned and forgotten by their people. But F’lar, the leader of the dragonriders, has studied ancient prophecies, and he knows the Threads are returning. Meanwhile, Lessa, a young, ambitious dragonrider, unites with the queen dragon, and together, they dare to rediscover the old methods of fighting the Threads.

What I Liked: The dragons! And the people flying them through space AND time! That was pretty cool. It also opened up a huuuuuuge universe for future books, which McCaffrey obviously took advantage of. (2) I liked the mix of F&SF elements. The dragons and dragonriders obviously felt like fantasy; but the plot felt more like sci-fi—it posed a problem to solve, rather than an adventure-quest. (3) I really enjoyed the plot payoff, even though the plot took a while to get going (and although once it got going, it was over. But I didn’t mind that—it was a fast read. It’s not like the plot dragged).

Other Stuff: (1) Characterization took a back seat to worldbuilding and plot, in this book; but I hear from other reviewers that the characters get more attention in later books. (2) The writing was decent, but occasionally McCaffrey would withhold strange bits of information in a disorienting way. (Several other reviewers irritably referred to “copy editing errors,” which might account for these confusions.) (3) Some reviewers charged the book with sexism, but I don’t really understand why; I mean, the main male protag, F’lar, can be kind of a jerk, but he’s a macho male and it’s not like Lessa ever backs down from her opinions. It works out for them—and I think [highlight to view spoiler: after Lessa’s success in the ending,] he’ll probably chill out. Also, the culture of the dragonriders does initially set itself against any female heroics, but [highlight to view spoiler: Lessa fixes that, in the ending ]. So I didn’t think the book was particularly sexist.

Overall Review: A fast-paced read with a cool setting and great concepts, though not much characterization. I think I’ll read on, at some point (perhaps after I finish Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series. Review coming soon!). I would like to get to know these characters (especially the dragons) better.

Recommendation: I think most people—men, women, teens, etc—would enjoy this book. I wouldn’t call it YA, but it fits right in with classic YA Fantasy like Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series or Tamora Pierce’s Lioness quartet.

3.5/5 STARS

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Setting: the Library, 9:30 am. 

Man: “I hated this YA novel. It was, like, about vampires.”

Me: “Vampires? What? That book is about flesh-eating water horses from Celtic mythology.”

Man: “Yeah, but…flesh-eating horses? That’s so…vampiric.”

I had just arrived at the library for a meeting with our Teen Advisory Group when…this happened. The week before, this man had asked me for a good YA novel, so I had recommended The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Naturally, his reaction disappointed me–not just because the strengths of the book were not to his taste, but because he saw the book through the lens of an entirely unrelated book. There’s really no comparison between Twilight and The Scorpio Races, other than their strong settings. How are fleshing-eating water horses ‘vampiric’? Is it just because they eat people? Does this mean were werewolves and sirens and tiger sharks are also ‘vampiric’? This was a well-read man who devours speculative fiction–but he clearly had pre-conceived notions about YA fiction.

I’ve also heard the plot of The Scorpio Races (early 20th century Scottish teenagers race Celtic water horses for prize money) characterized thus: “Oh, that sounds just like The Hunger Games! Teens being in danger and stuff. In an arena.” There’s really no comparison between these two books, either. Really. They’re nothing alike- where one is serious, the other is funny. One is Dystopian; the other is Historical Fantasy. One is written like a screenplay, the other like a modern ballad. For heavens’ sake, one is a trilogy and the other is a standalone!

These are just two examples I’ve experienced of YA stereotyping. It’s trendy for readers (and non-readers), most of whom are unfamiliar with YA fiction and its genre conventions, to see all YA through the lens of Twilight, The Hunger Games or a combination of the two. Granted, there have been some knock-offs, but there was YA before, there is YA after and it’s not all the same.

YA certainly has its tropes–sarcasm, middle-class white girl romances, moral-relativism, insta-love, unlikely paranormal pairings and near-future dystopias with unrealistic “hooks”–but that doesn’t mean all YA is the same.That doesn’t mean the genre is all stereotype and cliche. It DOES mean that there are genre conventions; for example, coming-of-age plots (including romance) and dystopian or fantasy settings. Good and bad YA use the same conventions, but good YA uses them more skillfully. This is true of every genre.

Let’s make sure we reviewers and book-talkers don’t add to the misconception that all YA is a Twilight-Hunger Games remix. I’m guilty of this myself, at times. But I’m determined to be both honest AND kind to this genre. It’s often a gateway for new readers and new writers. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticize it or expect good writing–in fact, I would love to see more far-future sci-fi and morally-complex shadings in the genre. There are excellent veteran writers and readers who also love the genre and are looking for ways to improve the quality. But there are also many out there who just like to feel superior by criticizing what they don’t understand. Let’s set them straight.

Grave Mercy

Premise: Ismae joins the convent of Mortain, the god of death, where she trains to become his assassin. Her most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she falls in love with her target, the illegitimate brother of the young duchess, Anne of Brittany. Historical Fantasy, 2012.

What I Liked: (1) The setting! This is good YA historical romance/fantasy. Brittany comes alive with the well-researched detail. The setting and atmosphere are the lovely, shining things about this novel. (2) Castle intrigue, how I love it. The big mystery is, “Who is betraying the duchess?” And the story really is about a conflicted and inexperienced, yet competent assassin fighting to protect the true royal of Brittany. It never devolves into a simple romance plot. The pacing slows down, at a few points, but I never lost interest, after I was hooked by the action in chapter six.

Other Stuff: (1) I didn’t like the first few melodramatic chapters—Okay, everyone, GO HATE ISMAE, the PERFECTLY INNOCENT ANGEL CHILD THAT NOBODY LOVES! Make her life A MISERY!!!!!!!—an irritation that was emphasized, in part, by the first-person present tense. But I got over that fairly quickly—by chapter six, I was hooked. (2) The characters are…well, their personalities aren’t very unique. Their motivations are, but they all sound the same, including Ismae. I think the first-person present tense also contribute to this. But the setting is enough of a character to make up for it. (3) The romance in Grave Mercy is both beautiful and melodramatic. They can’t just say, “Yeah, I think I’m in love with you. Let’s shake it up, baby.” No, it has to be all frustrated and shy and irritating. Siiiiiigh. Also, [Highlight to Read Spoiler:]I really wish we could have seen the wedding—because despite Ismae’s stupidly “strong career woman” answer to her man’s proposal, we know they’re going to get hitched. NOVELLA PLZ! (4) I wish there had been time for more about Ismae’s physical training, but the author would likely have needed to write two or three books (with separate adventures) to do it justice; and while this book is part of a trilogy, books two and three star different protagonists. I’m just going through Tamora Pierce withdrawals (since forever) and I haven’t found anything quite so spectacular to replace her females actually being knights and stuff, yet. There were some great scenes, though, wherein Ismae showed off her skills.

Overall: This story has flaws, but it’s quite engaging and well-crafted. I’m definitely going to read book II and possibly book III.

Recommendation: For readers who might like historical romance without tons of sex. For teens who are interested in history and light fantastical elements. Don’t read this if you’re weary of the common romantic pitfalls. There is no love triangle, but as I said, the romance isn’t the strong point of this story.

Also, the book trailer is fun!

****4/5 STARS

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