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Monday, August 13, 2012

5 YA Fantasies Worth Reading

Here’s the thing about fantasy: As soon as I read one fantasy novel, I tend to crave others. I might not have read a fantasy for months, but as soon as I read one—BAM!—it’s pretty much all I want to read. So I go on this crazy binge until I’m finally craving some sci-fi or contemporary.

Anyhow, there’s a good side to this and then a bad side. On the upside, I read a lot of really great fantasy novels and live in these rich worlds for weeks. But, of course, there’s a catch: When I come off my bender, I have a hard time remembering which plot went with which characters, and so on.

So a few weeks ago, when I gave you a sneak peak of four fantasy novels I read recently and loved, I had a pretty good idea of the plots. But there was this whole day job thing that made me a bad blogger and, well, I think you know where this is going. My apologies ahead of time if these aren’t very specific reviews.*

The mystery quote:
I missed you every hour. And you know what the worst part was? It caught me completely by surprise. I’d catch myself just walking around to find you, not for any reason, just out of habit, because I’d seen something that I wanted to tell you about or because I wanted to hear your voice. And then I’d realize that you weren’t there anymore, and every time, every single time, it was like having the wind knocked out of me.
The book: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

There are so many things I loved about this novel, not the least of which was the world Bardugo created. It’s so well crafted that we’re immediately immersed in Ravka without any boring info dumps. Because of that, pacing is never an issue, even as we learn about the world’s customs and landscape. And then there are the characters. Alina and best friend Mal are great, but my favorite is the villain, the Darkling. I know, I know, I should be pining away for Mal, but the Darkling is such a great character—not a one-dimensional villain—that I was glued to the page each time Bardugo revealed more about him. The writing’s great and the premise is new, but even without any of that this is worth a read for the lush world that comes to life on the page.

The mystery quote:
“Honor from death,” I snap, “is a myth. Invented by the war torn to make sense of the horrific. If we die, it will be so that others may live. Truly honorable death, the only honorable death, is one that enables life.”
The book: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

I’m going to sound like such a broken record in this post, a record stuck on love, love, love, love… But the thing is, I loved this book too. And it’s hard to determine exactly what I loved so much since I was a fan of pretty much all of it. I loved the vivid world, the characters—especially the protagonist, Eliza, who has such a great transformation during the book (and I’m not talking about her looks, though those change, too). I love Humberto even though that name doesn’t make him sound like much of a love interest. But he is, this boy who kidnapped the princess and wins her heart without ever being creepy (pinkie swear), this boy who…well, you’ll have to read to find out. But oh! And I love Cosmé, a fellow kidnapper who’s so easy to hate until you realize you love her. So basically there’s no good reason you shouldn’t pick up this book.

The mystery quote:
No friend had I made there, but I wasn’t with this group to make friends, and besides, he sneered too much. I’ve found that people who sneer are almost always sneering at me.
The book: The Thief

The major difference between this book and the last two is the narrator: a boy. Also, I know exactly why I loved it so much: Gen, the teen boy who narrates the story. Gen is sarcastic and funny, dishonest (to the band of king’s men he journeys with in order to steal an ancient treasure and to us), and smart. Gen has plenty of faults—he steals, he lies, he’s lazy pretty much all the time—but he’s also an easy character to like. In fact, though the world-building was great and the story interesting, the characters, and most specifically Gen, are what kept me flipping pages. I picked up the second book in this series less than a day after finishing the first, and it’s also a really great read. My only complain was that it was told in third person, and I missed Gen’s funny point of view.

The mystery quote:
Envy hurt exponentially more than heartbreak because your soul was torn in two, half soaring with happiness for another person, half mired in a well of self-pity and pain.
The book: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

It may be a leap to categorize this as a straight fantasy because… um, it’s not. There are sci-fi elements—genetic experiments and technological advances—but most of the story takes place in a Luddite community that’s shunned the genetically “impure.” So it’s technically a dystopian sci-fi that has the feel of a fantasy—not in scope, because it’s not epic, but historic atmosphere. And if that didn’t completely confuse you, then a cherry on your sundae today. This is mostly a love story, and a well-done love story at that. I felt for Elliot and her former best friend, former boyfriend Kai. Peterfreund’s skillful use of letters between young Elliot and Kai develops the characters, explores the past relationship without long stretches of backstory, and weaves an interesting mystery—why did Kai leave?—that is revealed at the perfect pace.

Bonus: I read this book after that last post, but it’s also fantasy and also really good, so I thought I’d tag this onto the list of Books You Should Go Buy Right Now. And because you didn’t get a quote earlier, here’s one:

The book: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maass

I was dying to read this based on the quick blurb I read because, hello, chick assassin. I mean, I loved the assassin nuns in Grave Mercy, so this idea—the prince seeks out the best assassin in the land, Celaena, our narrator—had me counting down the days until the books release in August. Celaena is tough and calculating, and scenes in which she’s training for or competing in a tournament to become the royal assassin are exciting and hard to put down. But so are the quieter moments, which are usually between Celaena and Prince Dorian, captain of the guard, Chaol Westfall, or a visiting princess who is one of my favorite characters in the story. The plot’s exciting, pace gripping, and the romance…swoon. (I think I’m in the minority here, but my fingers are crossed that at some other point in this series Celaena ends up with Dorian because those two together—sigh.)

Going with the theme of today’s reviews: What’s your favorite YA fantasy?

*Another positive: Very soon I can read these again like it’s the first time.

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