Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
This novel begins a new series in Clare’s Shadowhunter universe. Previous related books were the Mortal Instruments series and the steampunk-inspired Infernal Devices trilogy. With the exception of Clare’s messy first book, City of Bones, her novels are well-written in a way that’s typical of the YA fantasy genre. It’s definitely light reading, but I find this universe fun and rich, imaginative and humorous. I think Clare has been improving with more writing experience. Her characters, especially the male leads, get stronger and less annoying each time she creates a new set of them. And the characters from previous series (yes, even the one set in the 1800s) make cameo appearances, as the universe grows in complexity and population.
This story begins five years after the end of City of Heavenly Fire and concentrates on the Los Angeles institute, where young Shadowhunters are still dealing with the fallout from the Mortal War. Julian has responsibility for his younger siblings since his father’s death. Emma is still dealing with her parents’ murder and nurtures revenge fantasies. These two are parabatai–a ritualized relationship for Shadowhunter best friends that enables them to offer each other extra protection and support. But the problem is that they’re falling in love, and parabatai are supposed to be strictly platonic. That’s the source of the book’s sexual tension and angst. The action starts when some fairies show up at the institute and ask Emma and Julian to solve a series of murders that she thinks might be related to those of her parents.
The sequel, Lord of Shadows, is coming out later this year.
Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo
This series is the kind of thing that makes me want to fangirl all over the place. I loved the dreamy/nightmarish Russian-inspired setting, and the way magic works in this fantastic realm. Mal and Alina’s romance in Shadow and Bone was so sweet, and compared to the way they act in this book, innocent. But in a second book of a trilogy, things have to get complicated. Mal and Alina are clearly made to be together, but they’re bad at communicating, and their circumstances pull them apart. There are petty jealousies and new inequalities of rank. It’s sad to see people who love each other hurt each other, not in spite of their love but because of it. Mal acts both idiotically and with stubborn honor; Alina doesn’t work hard enough to keep him close to her, mostly because she doesn’t quite understand that that is where he wants to be. I love that this heroine has considerable lust for power and darkness within her, in addition to her sarcastic, prickly personality and inferiority complex–she’s not sunshine and roses even though her power is literally summoning light. In this book, Alina and Mal spend a lot of time in the royal palace, and a new character is a very romantic figure–a second-born prince, rumored to be a bastard, who has been away from the capital inventing flying machines while disguised as a privateer. I was afraid he would turn the story into a love triangle, but thankfully Alina is never really tempted by his (and his brother’s) pragmatic proposals. Though the tone is often incredibly dark, there are also many funny moments. Like many #2’s in trilogies, the ending seems like it’s as bad as it can be–an explosion of violence, the heroine willingly handing herself over to the villain to save her friends. But you know it’s only going to get worse. I can’t wait to pick up the finale.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
This is the third Cormoran Strike mystery, penned by JK Rowling under her pseudonym. It begins with a severed leg delivered to Robin, Strike’s assistant. Strike identifies three men from his past who might want to hurt his reputation this way, and most of the book concerns investigating them, and flashbacks to their original crimes. Third-person narration alternates between Strike, Robin, and the killer, which makes for some pretty chilling passages. As I speculated earlier, the death of Strike’s mother did come up again, although this novel doesn’t completely resolve that plotline. Robin’s impending wedding creates another source of drama and tension between her and Strike. The final twist was just right–not so far out of the blue that it seemed impossible, but clever enough that I didn’t guess it. I was intrigued throughout. Robin and Strike are compelling characters, and their relationship develops a lot in this volume. It was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery I’d recommend to anyone who likes that genre.
The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson
This book is the third in the Shades of London series, in which near-death experiences give teens the ability to see ghosts. Narrator and heroine Rory pursues missing friends, living, dead and in-between, going into hiding herself and thwarting a plot to release thousands of ghosts on London. After ending of the previous book, The Madness Underneath, I was expecting this book’s narrative to go one way, toward a certain type of angst and requited but unrequitable love, and instead Johnson pulled some narrative tricks I wasn’t anticipating, focusing on the mystery and action, and creating a different type of angst after all. Two twisted, formidable villains are introduced in this installment, building my anticipation for the next book. I like this series better than her 13 Little Blue Envelopes, but maybe that’s at least partly because I just like YA fantasy as a genre so much.
The next book in the series isn’t out; I haven’t even heard the title released yet. Johnson seems to be on an every-other-year publishing schedule with this series, so I don’t expect it until 2017, but I’m looking forward to it!
A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray
The premise of this YA sci-fi fantasy romance is kind of complicated, but if you just go with it, you can enjoy a great love story with some startling plot twists and surprises. Marguerite’s scientist parents have discovered a way to travel between dimensions. When her father is killed, she and one of their research assistants travel to another dimension in pursuit of the killer. They travel to several different versions of reality, each creatively constructed and strange. Marguerite spends most of her time in a version of Russia where the Romanovs survived, and she is one of their descendants. There, she falls in love in a super-romantic, lusciously-described way. There is a love triangle, and then a love triangle within that love triangle, if that makes any sense. I thought the concept and the rules of these alternate dimensions were as plausibly explained as anything in science fiction, and they offer a ton of narrative possibilities and potential for conflict, which is the ultimate purpose of sci-fi complications, in my mind.
I enjoyed Gray’s vampire series, Evernight, but this series is even better. I’m looking forward to picking up the second book in the series.
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
This sequel to The Knife of Never Letting Go picks up right after that book’s cliffhanger ending, as both Todd and wounded Viola are captured by the villain, the Mayor. Narration alternates between Todd and Viola, who are separated for most of the story. Todd reluctantly joins the Mayor’s inquisition, while Viola gets taken in by a mostly-female resistance group, whose leader may be just as bad as the Mayor, in her own way. The most interesting thing about the story might be the way it shows how good people can be convinced to become complicit in evil, especially when the pressure is on and a skilled manipulator pulls the right psychological strings. Gender did not seem as prominent an issue in this book as in the first. Instead, the focus was on slavery and colonization, as Todd served as a foreman forcing the alien Spackle to work, and on terrorism, as the Answer bombed strategic sites. The last book in the trilogy is bound to be just as exciting, as war is brewing and a new power enters the arena–the colonists from Viola’s ship.
Acacia by David Anthony Durham
I think I first heard about this series on a listcicle with a name like “Books to read while you’re waiting for the next Game of Thrones novel” and that’s totally appropriate. The comparison is perfect: Acacia tells the story of the ruling family of a land full of hidden magic as they fall to a rebellion, go into hiding, and begin their own counter-rebellion. Some major issues here are colonization and slavery. The Acacian empire is based on trade with a mysterious “league” that exchanges drugs for children, and the rebels who overthrow them are a people who had been subjugated and treated unfairly, but who continue the trade system. The narrative switches among many characters’ perspectives, on all sides of the war. As in Game of Thrones, no character is safe, no matter how central or virtuous, and complex moral questions arise as the “good guys” get morally tainted. I’d love to see this series made into an HBO series as well. It’s imaginative, engrossing, and super dramatic, with high fantasy language and lots of violent battles and fight scenes.
Winter by Marissa Meyer
This is the last book in the Lunar Chronicles, a cyberpunk series of fairy tale retellings. This one is a new take on Snow White, set against the backdrop of a revolution on the moon. It’s a worthy conclusion to the series and lives up to the promise of the other books, Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress. Cinderella as a long-lost princess turned cyborg revolutionary, her prince captive by the evil queen, Rapunzel as a master hacker–I love the way this series makes passive princesses into skillful leaders and team members, taking control not just of their own destiny, but changing two worlds for the better. The books are all action-packed, with intrigue, plotting, surprises, and high stakes. They’d make a great TV series.
This one is the longest in the series by far because it has so many plotlines to tie up. It’s like with each book in the series Meyer added a ball to the ones she was already juggling, and it takes her a while to put them all down. Perspective shifts between at least eight characters. Each of the series’s love stories had its own satisfying conclusion, sometimes even with a fairy tale touch. The over-the-top evil villain might be a weakness of the series, one Meyer had a chance to remedy through introducing more nuance in Fairest, but didn’t. Despite that, it was thoroughly enjoyable, tons of fun to read.
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two by Catherynne M. Valente
This children’s fantasy book continues the adventures of September in Fairyland. This time she goes to the moon. Soft and gentle tone, sweetly empathetic narrator, The action is both nonsensical and logical in its own strange way. Valente makes it easy to suspend your disbelief and get swept up in the story and the big existential questions it raises, often explicitly. The musings of Valente’s characters feel wise with the wisdom of both children and adults. This book is concerned with time, fate, and memory. September learns about the yeti’s paw that fairies used to manipulate time into meaninglessness. September is wondering about growing up and what that means, about what her future can hold, (which, to a girl born in the 1930’s, is a question that’s both closed and newly open). In her most bad-ass move yet, September meets her fate and smashes it. Many of the images seem strangely and wonderfully 2D, like the paper circus, and the photographs into which September and her friends enter. I wonder what Pixar or another brilliant animation studio would do with those moments. There’s a cliffhanger ending, which makes it seem as if this adventure in fairyland will carry into the next book, rather than returning September to our world, and for the first time, her earthly absence will have consequences. There are two more books in the series, one focusing on September’s friend Saturday, and the other on her last adventure in Fairyland.
The Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan
This is the first of a YA fantasy series. It’s about Will, an orphaned ward of the baron who is apprenticed to a ranger, which is kind of like a spy. His wardmate Horace, a warrior-in-training, provides a subplot about bullying. The climax shows Will and his master taking down ape-like assassin monsters. The entire kingdom will soon be engulfed in a war when the evil Morgarath attacks.
The book did not capture my interest. It seemed bland and cliched. Nothing was even slightly surprising about it. It seemed more appropriate for the juvenile stacks than YA. It was only 249 pages, but seemed too long. I’m passing on the later books in the series.