The Invasion of the Tearling

InvasionTearlingCoverWritten by Erika Johansen; Published 2015.

The second book in the Tearling trilogy by Johansen, I liked this one more and less than the first book, The Queen of the Tearling. It started out poorly, which I think turned me off it but I continued reading and was well rewarded.

****SPOILERS TO FOLLOW****

I had two main issues with this book. First, the book starts off with a closer look at the Church and the role of Tyler in it. Tyler is a good character- he’s a solid believer and a valuable ally and adviser for Queen Kelsea. But the Church as a whole, in which Tyler is a very small, insignificant part, is bloated, corrupt, and hypocritical. And as a Christian, I get tired of reading about how awful the Church is, especially from people (like Johansen) that I would bet have nothing to do with a church at all. The second thing that really bothered me was the change in Kelsea’s appearance. For an author who wrote an article titled “Why We Need ‘Ugly’ Heroines“, I was disappointed to read that Kelsea was slowly turning beautiful. And while it’s implied that this is the combined effect of Kelsea’s desire to be beautiful and the power of her sapphires, part of Kelsea’s appeal in the first book was that she was just a normal girl with normal looks. This is only the second book so hopefully she will return to her normal self by the end of the trilogy.

Other than those few things though, this book was really good. And strangely, for a book where not much happens, we get so much information about the story it’s hard to keep track of everything. The book starts with the Mort army at the borders of Tear territory. Some 400 pages later, they reach the Tear capital, which takes about a week (if I remember correctly). But we find out so much about the history of the Mort Queen and also about the history of the Tear people. And best of all, we finally find out about the mysterious “Crossing” through flashbacks. I really love that Johansen makes you work for information. There’s no simple paragraph or chapter telling us exactly what happened when; instead we find out about the Tear history as Kelsea does. The book is over 500 pages but it moves fast and it of course ends with a cliffhanger. Hopefully the third book will be coming soon because this trilogy has been very good so far and if the final book is as good as the first two, this series could easily become one of my favorites.

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The Magician’s Land

magicianslandcoverWritten by Lev Grossman; published 2014.

The Magician’s Land is the final book in a trilogy written by Lev Grossman. I read and reviewed the first two books a few years ago (The Magicians and The Magician King) and loved them both. I was thrilled to finish up the trilogy and was even more thrilled by how well it finished.

The Magicians trilogy unashamedly rips off two of the big fantasy stories, Harry Potter and Narnia. We first meet Quentin Coldwater as a brilliant and cynical teenager who is invited to attend Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches magic to the best of the best of American students. The second half of The Magicians takes place in Fillory (a Narnia-like fantasy land), as Quentin and his friends discover Fillory, save it and become its rulers. The Magician King takes place primarily in Fillory where Quentin and his old friend Julia are needed to save Fillory from the loss of magic. The end of the book finds Quentin banished from Fillory and sent back to Earth. It’s a bittersweet ending and a bit of a cliffhanger- Quentin has been obsessed with Fillory since he was a child. What is he to do now that he no longer has it?

So The Magician’s Land begins about 6 months after the end of The Magician King. Quentin is back on Earth and, after a short stint as a Brakebills professor, agrees to help steal a briefcase with ties to Fillory and the Chatwin children that first discovered the magical land. It’s a excellent book, and probably the best of the trilogy, that wraps up the story lines of all the major characters. I know that many readers found Quentin and his friends to be obnoxious, selfish, and self-absorbed, but that was actually one of my favorite things about this series. It gets a little boring when fantasy heroes tend to be either lone wolf types with a heart of gold or else they are nobodies that actually turn out to be super special and the only ones that can save the world. But here we’ve got characters that are just as messed up and fallible as, well, normal, real life people. This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I wanted to keep reading until I finished it.

I would love to hear what other people thought of this book or the entire trilogy!

The Queen of The Tearling

I should have known better than to start a series that isn’t finished yet. Because, naturally, I loved this book. And, naturally, it’s only the first book of a planned trilogy. So who knows when I’ll get to finish it. (*sigh*)

QueenoftheTearling

Written by Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling tells the story of 19 year old Kelsea who has lived her life in hiding as she is trained to be the new Queen. Her mother, the former queen, was beautiful, vain, and silly, and Kelsea’s guardians are adamant that Kelsea will be a completely different kind of ruler. Kelsea herself is actually quite plain (and not in the standard female protagonist way of “I’m tall and thin with striking features and there are 2 or more men desperately in love with me but I’m sooo ugly”). She’s a weird mixture of self conscious girl and selfless ruler and it makes her seem like a regular person. She’s always known that she would be queen but she’s lived a secluded life that’s made her a bit naive and fiercely idealistic (which causes trouble once she arrives at the capital).

The setting of this book is also a bit strange: we never got a cohesive explanation of the history but at some point in the past (in our future though), a group of people made a Crossing (to where or from where has not been satisfactorily answered yet) led by William Tear, a socialist that dreamed of creating a machine and technology free utopia. It failed and Queen of the Tearling takes place several centuries after the Crossing. So the world is a strange mixture of medieval like practices (horse riding, sword fighting, feudal society, etc.) and present day knowledge (genetics, mentions of Rowling and Tolkien, birth control, etc.).

Since this is the first book, there are a lot of unanswered questions and open plot lines when the book finishes, like who is Kelsea’s father, who is the mysterious Fetch, what is the story behind the villainous Red Queen, and where are these people?!? (I really hope the Crossing history gets explained in more detail.) But I still loved it. It is a slow moving book but I think (hope!) that the rest of the series will be just as good as this one.

Clariel

Oh, how quickly resolutions fail. I recently claimed that I was taking a break from YA fiction because I was tired of reading the same bad story over and over again. And yet, here I am reading more young adult novels. However, Clariel by Garth Nix justified my broken resolve.

Clariel

Every now and then we read books that touch a chord in our imaginations that continues to hum the rest of our lives. The books don’t always have to be good on the whole, but something about them, a phrase, an image, a character, remains in our minds long after putting the book down. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, Chalice by Robin McKinley are some of those books for me. Sabriel by Garth Nix also falls into that category.

Sabriel

I don’t remember what made me first read Sabriel but it was, and is, like nothing I’ve read before and I quickly devoured it and the sequel/companion novels Lirael and Abhorsen. I was delighted to see Clariel, a prequel of sorts, on the Young Adult new book shelf at my library recently.

I won’t try to tell much of the plot because it will be difficult to describe without going into too much back story. And while Clariel didn’t quite touch the same chord as Sabriel, it was still far and away better than the majority of what is cluttering the Young Adult genre right now.

I will say this, that Clariel has that rarest of things: a realistic heroine. She isn’t a blank slate for the reader to transpose themselves on to. She acts like the 18 year old that she is. She’s moody, immature and indecisive. She thinks she knows what she wants in life but hasn’t really thought through the ramifications on following through with that plan. And when she is forced into taking a different path than she wanted to, she does so with maturity learned from previous mistakes. It’s also nice to see a main female character whose story doesn’t revolve around finding a man or even developing a romance with the male protagonist. Clariel is, in fact, still as happily single at the end of the book as she was at the beginning. How refreshing!

I know Garth Nix has written other popular series and seems to be a prolific short story writer so I look forward to delving into those, but has any one else read one or all of the Sabriel series? I would love to hear your thoughts on them.

Ruin and Rising; Or Why I’m Taking a Break from YA Fiction

Oh goodness.

It took me over a month to finish this book. For me, that’s a long time. A reaaalllly long time. Like, I might have read War and Peace in that same amount of time. (Ok, not really, but you get my idea.)

RuinandRising

Ruin and Rising is the third book in a young adult trilogy written by Leigh Bardugo. I read the first two in the series, Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, last year and was on the fence about whether I liked or disliked the books. Now that I have read Ruin and Rising I can say, with certainty, that I do NOT like this series. At all.

Maybe that’s an over-generalization. There were certain aspects of this series that I liked, particularly the secondary characters. They were funny, smart, likable characters that you were actually interested in reading about. Another thing I liked was the general idea behind the story: certain people in a country/time very similar to Russia in the early 1900’s have the ability to use magic. It’s not magic like Harry Potter magic, but rather a heightened ability to use specific skills. Some of those skills are natural talents like healing, some are a bit more fantastic like controlling weather.

But overall? Gaaawwwwd. You can’t see it but I’m burying my face in my hands just thinking about it. By the middle of this book I hated the main character Alina. HATED her. She’s a paper thin character with no motivation behind her actions and no reasoning behind her decisions. Her mannerisms, thoughts and speech are completely modern but this is definitely not a modern setting. We’re told over and over again how much she’s changed but she doesn’t seem different to me at all. By the end of the book she’s still the whiny, indecisive, teenage girl that she was when the trilogy started. She’s totally unbelievable as a leader and her relationship with Mal ruins this book. They are a terrible couple. Yes, they grew up together and that somehow means that they are the only people capable of understanding each other or something but this was teenage love/angst at its worst. It’s a little pathetic when two characters that were written to be in love with each other have zero chemistry. What makes it even worse is that there was a love interest for Alina that could have redeemed her terribleness as a character. But that didn’t happen. 😦

You might be wondering why I titled this post the way I did. It’s because of Alina. Not Alina specifically but her character type in general. I have gotten so tired of this girl (and it always seem to be a girl). The “unattractive” girl who ends up being the super special one, but she has a such a hard time coming to terms with that fact because she’s always been the wallflower, the plain one, the one with no talents, or whatever. I understand this in general, the desire to see oneself in a character. Most of us (I speak for women here but I imagine it applies to men as well), see ourselves as plain and, frankly, not special. To an extent, this is true. We’re never going to have a grand destiny. We will live our lives in anonymity and die mourned only by our friends and family. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is why books and characters like Harry Potter are so popular. We want to find out that we ARE special, that we are the only ones who can save the world. By now though, it’s been done to death. And the character type has been watered down so much that we now have characters like Alina who thinks that she can’t possibly be the hope of a nation because she’s so plain and scrawny. What her physical appearance has to do with anything I don’t know. But she spends the next three books endlessly debating and second guessing every decision and relationship. A little of this is right and natural, but if you’re expecting me to believe in a character’s growth I’m going to need to see some confidence in their abilities, even if it’s just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

So I’m done with reading young adult fiction… at least until I find something that looks worthwhile. (Suggestions are always welcome!!)

The Hunger Games

hungergamescoverWell, I finally did it. I finally read The Hunger Games. I actually finished it several weeks ago and was hoping to rewatch the movie to provide a more well-rounded sense of the story, but since I got about two thirds of the way through the movie and have had no desire to finish it since then, I realized I should probably just go ahead and write my review.

My cousin first gave me this book before it got really big. I had heard about it and was interested to read it but somehow it just kept getting put aside for another book I wanted to read first. A few years after he gave me the book, the movie came out and I was taken to see it by some friends. I thought the movie fine, not really that great and I was clearly missing some references by not knowing the book. But now that I have read the book, I’m wondering how anyone stomached that movie at all.

The book was much better than I was expecting. Katniss is truly a survivor and it’s very clear to see how her background trained her to be one. And yet she still has compassion for others, a sacrificial love for her sister, and an innate decency that prevents her from killing anyone or even wanting to (except in self defense or mercy).

I’m not about to start learning archery or wearing a side braid because that’s what Katniss did, but I did enjoy this book much more than I was expecting. I’ve already checked out Catching Fire so I’ll probably be posting a review when I finish that and will maybe even watch the movie (although I have to admit, I’m more interested in watching the movie to see a former place of employment than I am in actually seeing the movie!).

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ColdestGirlCover By Holly Black; Published 2013.

I don’t know why this book sounded interesting to me- it’s essentially a young adult paranormal romance novel. But I did read it and I’m glad I did because it was much better than I was expecting.

Here’s the official description:

Tana lives in a world where walled cities called Coldtowns exist. In them, quarantined monsters and humans mingle in a decadently bloody mix of predator and prey. The only problem is, once you pass through Coldtown’s gates, you can never leave.

One morning, after a perfectly ordinary party, Tana wakes up surrounded by corpses. The only other survivors of this massacre are her exasperatingly endearing ex-boyfriend, infected and on the edge, and a mysterious boy burdened with a terrible secret. Shaken and determined, Tana enters a race against the clock to save the three of them the only way she knows how: by going straight to the wicked, opulent heart of Coldtown itself.
 
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is a wholly original story of rage and revenge, of guilt and horror, and of love and loathing from bestselling and acclaimed author Holly Black.
 
I’ll be the first to tell you that I hate paranormal romances and I hate them even more in the guise of young adult novels. But here, it works. Holly Black has taken the idea of Twilight and somehow made an intelligent, interesting story.
 
Here’s what I mean: I imagine everyone knows the story of Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. The human Bella is in love with the vampire Edward, deathless and flawless in every way imaginable. Women everywhere fell madly in love with the book and an intense fan base formed around the stories and the movies. So imagine that was real. Not just that vampires existed, but that thousands of people adored them and wished to be one of them. That is the world that Black has created in this book.
 
So while I have serious issues with yet another book directed at young women where a romance is one of the major plot lines, I love that Black shows vampires honestly. Yes, they are beautiful and seductive, and yes, it would be nice to be beautiful and powerful and adored. But Black never shys away from showing their monstrous-ness. They murder countless people, their blood lust is uncontrollable, and the longer they are vampires, the less human they become.
 
And I like Tana too. I can’t say that we would be friends, but she’d be a great companion in a tight spot.