Category Archives: fantasy

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

On the day that a terrible plague ends civilization as we know it, an actor dies onstage during a performance of King Lear. The actor, Arthur Leander, dies of a heart-attack, never knowing that his death day is also the death day of the world. Yet, Arthur Leander is at the heart of this tale. As the Georgia flu ravages the earth, we follow the lives of five characters, all connected to Arthur in some way. By seeing their lives before the Georgia flu, and comparing them to their lives after, we gain an appreciation of what is really important. Miranda Coles starts her seminal work, a two book comic book series titled “Station Eleven,” years before the flu stricks. Miranda, one of Arthur Leanders three wives, never gained any fame or fortune from her work while she was alive. But after the coming of the Georgia flu, her work becomes a vital literary work in the new world. Kirsten, who as a child, watched Arther Leander die onstage, joins the Traveling Symphony after the flu outbreak. The Traveling Symphony brings Shakespeare and music to the communities it visits, and Kirsten finds a new family. The stories of Miranda, Kirsten, and others who knew Arthur Leander weave together to become something greater than the sum of the parts.

Station Eleven is not a hard-hitting, action-packed dsytopian adventure. Rather, is a leisurely exploration of our world, civilization, and the human heart. A nominee for the National Book Award, this was an enjoyable read.

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Rooms, by Lauren Oliver

rooms

Rooms, by Lauren Oliver

Richard Walker has just died, and his family is soon to arrive to start making the final arrangements for his funeral and for the sale of his empty home. Richard Walker’s family is not aware that Richard Walker’s home is not empty at all: It is the home of two ghosts, Alice and Sandra. Ghosts, as we know from the horror movies marathons from our youth, have reasons for their hauntings. They have baggage, and that baggage holds them back from leaving for the great beyond. Richard Walker’s family arrive: his ex-wife Caroline, troubled son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna. Turns out, the living have their own share of baggage, and that baggage can hold them back from truly living their lives. As Caroline, Trenton, and Minna start to slough through all of Richard’s left behind stuff, they are forced to confront their own issues and unanswered questions. Watching it all, Alice and Sandra are confronting a few issues of their own.

At the heart, this is a book about forgiveness and letting go. “Rooms” gives us a glimpse into the hearts of both the living and the ghosts of the dead, as they all struggle with accepting their lives as they played out. An enjoyable read, simply because of the interesting telling. Perhaps, with this title, there were too many voices telling their tales, for I found I wasn’t terribly invested in any of them by the end. However, that might have been the point…to give us a larger view of these individual lives. And in providing such a view, the author succeeded very well.

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City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Once, the city of Bulikov, the Seat of the World, was ruled by the powers of six gods, Divinities of unique and diverse abilities. With the guidance of the Divinities, Bulikov is able to dominate other countries, including the distant country of Saypuri, which has no Divinities of its own. Yet, a Saypuri named Kaj is able to kill the Bulikov Divinities, and free his people using a mysterious new weapon. The act that frees Saypuri causes mass destruction in Bulikov as the powers of the Divinities, which supported the city, vanishes. Whole portions of the city disappear, and parts are re-imagined in a catastrophe known as the Blink. The city lies in ruin, its people in desperate need of help. And the Saypuri, now free, offer help. But their help means that the citizens of Bulikov must forget their history and forget their gods. And while the city is rebuilt, it is a poor imitation of what it was. The people are poor, the city without much hope.

Then, a Saypuri historian is killed. Murdered. Enter Saypuri agent Shara and her secretary, Sigrud. They are in Bulikov to solve the murder of one of their own, but they find that the death may only be a symptom of a deeper problem. The Divinities may not all be dead, it seems, and the citizens of Bulikov might not be so powerless as they appear. Soon, Shara and Sigrud find that the search for a murderer sets them on a course that may mean life or death for both the peoples of Bulikov and the citizens of Saypuri.

Robert Jackson Bennett has provided one of the most richly imagined fantasy worlds I’ve encountered in a long while. The ruined city of Bolikov is overflowing with mystery and tragedy, with glimpses of altered realities visible from the corner of ones eye. Shara and Sigrud are vivid, wonderful characters. And while I won’t give away any of the plot, I urge you to make sure you get past the first scene in the book, which opens during a legal hearing. I almost put the book down at this point in the story, but I’m very glad I didn’t.

And Mr. Bennett? Shara and Sigrud are such fabulous characters, I would love to see a sequel.

 

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Ask Me, by Kimberly Pauley

Ask Me, by Kimberly Pauly

Ask Me, by Kimberly Pauley

Aria Morse must answer any question she hears; she is an oracle, one descended from the Sibyls from ancient Greece. While the talent may have been valued in ancient Greece, Aria feels as if she has been cursed. She has no control over her impulse to answer questions, and people ask a lot of questions every day. Questions on the bus, questions at the market, questions at school; if Aria hears them, answers come flying out of her mouth. If the answers made sense and she could have helped her grandparents win the lottery, life might have been much better. The answers don’t always make sense though, and when they do, people often don’t want to hear them. If the answer to your wife’s question of “Where have you been all night?” is “Out with my new girlfriend,’ then the truth is just going to make people mad.

In order to deal with life in school, Aria listens to music and tries not to hear any questions. She is known as ‘the mumbler,’ in spite of her best efforts. When one of her classmates goes missing, people start to ask questions, and Aria gives answers. The answers aren’t good ones, and soon, the classmate turns up dead. As the questions surrounding the girl’s death escalate, Aria is appalled to hear the answers. More girls are going to die, and suspicion seems to fall on Alex, a boy with a known troubled family. Aria seeks the help of Will, another classmate, and soon the two of them are deeply involved in trying to stop more deaths. Aria may find that her efforts put her in more danger than anyone, and her oracle powers may not be any help at all.

This was an interesting young adult title. While many paranormal books focus on vampires or werewolves, it was nice to see a book focus on a different paranormal being. Kimberly Pauley’s take on the life of an oracle was fresh, and Aria was a wonderful character to get to know. I actually would have liked to see more of the history of these women, and what they have accomplished in the world. The murder mystery was not terribly hard to figure out, but I enjoyed the journey to the end of the book nonetheless.

 

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The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

Princess Kelsea is the heir to the Tearling throne, but she is raised in isolation and taught by a couple who were loyal to her mother, Queen Elyssa. When she turns nineteen, the Queen’s Guard arrive to take her to the capital; it is time for Kelsea to take the throne. She is unprepared for the difficulties that await her; she is not familiar with the political maneuverings of the royal court, nor is she aware of how her uncle, the regent has been ruling the kingdom. And most notably, she is not familiar with her enemy, the Red Queen of Mortmesne, who possesses control over a fearsome, dark magic. Kelsea learns that the blue stone necklace she wears around her neck is one of the Tearling sapphires, a jewel of great power. The jewel has a twin, and this is also for her to control, if only she knew how to do it. Kelsea must learn a great many things very quickly if she is to save her kingdom. With the support of the Queen’s Guard, led by the stoic, yet resourceful Lazarus, she at least stands a chance of surviving.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked it because Kelsea is a strong female character, and is not looking for her lost love to save the day. Her relationship with Lazarus, the captain of her guard, is based upon the growing respect they have for each other, and seems likely to turn into a real friendship. However, as a reader of fantasy, I pay a lot of attention to world building, and in that regard, this book is lacking. The first half of the story is much stronger than the second. We get some new characters telling things from their point of view about at the midway point, and somehow, when the viewpoint changed to the minor characters, the story lost focus for me. This debut is the first of a trilogy, and I can hope for improvement in the second book. The movie rights for this book have already been sold, and Emma Watson is already rumored to be signed on for the role of Kelsea. For that reason alone, this book will be a best seller.

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Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

In Joe Abercrombie’s latest fantasy we meet Prince Yarvi, born with a crippled hand. When his father and brother are killed, Yarvi unexpectedly finds himself king. Yarvi never wanted to be king, and feels he is woefully unprepared to take on the role. A king should be able to swing a sword and carry a shield, and he can do neither. How can a crippled king truly lead his people? Quickly, his fears are realized as betrayal takes the throne from him. Now Yarvi must fight for his life while withstanding brutal hardships. Yet, Yarvi endures, and through his trials, his true strengths begin to be revealed. Now on a quest to reclaim his throne, Yarvi may find that half-a-king is the strongest king of all.

Joe Abercrombie has written a number of brilliant fantasy titles, but many of them are too grim and dark for me. And at first, I was not overwhelmed by the brilliance of Yarvi’s story, as some of the story choices seemed a bit cliched, and feared this was going to be a rehashing of older, more familiar tales. I kept reading, and I can tell you that the story is not cliched; if anything, it just took an extra chapter or two to truly grip me.

But grip me it did. With Yarvi’s coming-of-age tale, Joe gives us a compelling character and a marvelous fantasy world, but one where hope and possibilities are allowed to live and flourish. Highly recommended.

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The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

The Girl with All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey

Melanie loves school, and she loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. Yet, a school day for Melanie involves being strapped into a chair at gunpoint, restrained through all of the lessons. Regardless, Melanie thrives, soaking up knowledge and stories and culture. Soon, Melanie will have to act on her knowledge, and her actions may change the world. A brilliant coming of age zombie novel. Who knew there was such a thing?

Zombies seem to be the creature of choice today, where once vampires definitely took top billing. The Walking Dead, World War Z, Zombieland, Warm Bodies–all zombie stories. Most zombie stories don’t have a happy ending, due to the nature of the beast. Zombies eat your brain and make more zombies, after all. However, in “The Girl with All the Gifts,” we have different take on zombies. Zombies may have ended the world, but one young zombie girl may be the start of a new one. I really can’t say more, but Mike Carey, the author, has written for Hellblazer, Marvel’s X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere comic adaptation. He has great skill in not only writing a good zombie story full of great action, but he gives us very strong characters as well. This is an excellent book, and one I highly recommend.

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The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson

Elisa is the second daughter of the king of Oravalle, and is the complete opposite of her sister. While her sister is beautiful, graceful, and always at the center of attention, Elisa is overweight, clumsy, and shy. She really isn’t all that important to the kingdom, this second princess, and she very well knows it. Except, in Elisha’s case, she was blessed with a special mark from God on her naming day. On that day, God put a sparkling blue, living stone in her navel, a favor that is only given every 100 years. It means that the bearer will perform a special service for God, something large and important. Elisa is pretty sure she’s not up to the task, for she is pretty sure she doesn’t have the talents for much of anything, except perhaps eating.

Then, on her sixteenth birthday, Elisa’s life changes quickly and forever. She is married to King Alejandro, handsome ruler of a neighboring country, and whisked away to his homeland. And just as quickly, she is made aware of the threat of invasion from the hostile forces of the county of Invierne. Life in the palace isn’t peaceful either, as political currents swirl all around the inner court. Elisa must call on hidden strengths as she tries to puzzle out her place in the increasingly tense situation. And then, when she is kidnapped, the entire situation changes again. Now Elisa must find a way to complete her service, help her people, and find love, all at the same time.

This is a very special book. Elisa is a strong character, one faced with an almost insurmountable task.  Rae Carson immerses you in the story, and gives you a cast of complex, wonderful characters. This is a fast-paced adventure, and you will feel the tension as Elisa faces the challenges before her. If you liked other fantasy titles such as “The Throne of Glass,” by Sarah J. Maas and “Graceling,” by Kristin Cashore, then you will love “The Girl of Fire and Thorns.”

 

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The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner's Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

The Winner’s Curse, by Marie Rutkoski

I read this book on the basis of the title, as I found it intriguing. “The Winner’s Curse” is a phenomenon  that may occur after purchasing an item at auction, when the buyer regrets the high price they paid, or they find out that the item was not as described. Kestrel, the daughter of a Valorian general, buys a Herrani slave on a whim. Perhaps it is the defiance in his eyes or the stubbornness of his stance that attracts her, familiar feelings for the young woman. Kestrel is almost of age, and soon must make a choice: get married, or join the military. Kestrel wants to do neither; rather, she longs to make her own choices, to make her own way in the world. Kestrel knows that she has made a mistake the moment she buys the slave, named Arin. The Valorians have conquered the Herreni, and taken over their city. Arin should just be one more slave among many, yet Arin is not. Arin is dangerous to Kestrel, for he is intelligent, resourceful, and he listens to her in a way that few others do. By getting to know Arin, Kestrel begins to question the choices of her people, as well as the choices offered to her in life. She desperately wants a way out for herself, and for Arin. In a city soon to be ravaged anew by violence, Kestrel is forced to make some dangerous choices. Her choices may be dangerous to both the Valorians as well as the Herrani, but they may prove to be devastating to both Kestrel and Arin.

This enthralling tale of star-crossed lovers is the first book of a proposed fantasy trilogy. I found this book to be very refreshingly told, because more of the story is told by what is not said than what is said between the characters. The verbal fencing that takes place between the characters reflects their intelligence, and demonstrates the game of wits being played, both between Kestrel and Arin, but also between Kestrel and just about everyone else. Kestrel is a strong female character in a world where woman only show their strength through battle. Kestrel wants more, and as she navigates the difficult path laid out before her, we sense that maybe she has a chance to get exactly what she wants.

“The Winner’s Curse” is available now, both in hardcover and ebook versions, from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

 

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Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

Stolen Songbird, by Danielle L. Jensen

Cécile de Troyes has her whole life ahead of her–she is just about to turn 17, and now she is old enough to join her mother in the city and learn to sing for the stage. Cécile has a beautiful voice, and while she loves living with her family on their farm, she is eager to sing, to use the talent she’s been given. Except, of course, life seldom works out as you expect. Instead of celebrating her birthday with her family and friends, Cécile is kidnapped and taken far underneath a local mountain. She has been sold, it seems, to trolls. Now, in a city that never sees the sky, Cécile is a prisoner to beings of darkness and magic. The trolls are trapped in their mountain city, trapped by the curse of a human witch, and the centuries of their captivity are taking a toll. Cécile, a girl of flaming hair and the voice of an angel, has been prophesied to be the key to unlock their terrible cage. The only catch is that in order to unlock the mountain prison, Cécile must become the wife of the troll prince, Tristan.

This debut title is an exceptional start to the Malediction trilogy. I immediately liked Cécile, for while she is young, she isn’t stupid. Though frightened, she keeps a clear head and treats the trolls with respect. By keeping her wits about her, she begins to see that the trolls aren’t simply evil creatures with deceitful hearts, as myth portrays them. Rather, she sees that many of the trolls are kind, caring, and trying desperately to do the right thing, for both their own people, and for the humans that inhabit the world outside of the mountain. She is instantly attracted to prince Tristan, not only because he is handsome, but he is trying to become a proper leader for his people. And it is Cécile, and not Tristan, who truly thinks his people belong once again in the light.

This is a marvelous book, and I read it obsessively. The world building is very good, and I liked the entire cast of characters, including the more…evil ones. The storyline is complex–there are no easy answers here, and I applaud that. The system of magic, especially the magic used by witches, is not as well defined as I’d like to see, but I have hope that this will be rectified in the next book.  And really, I enjoyed the first one so much that the next book can’t come out too soon!

Stolen Songbird is available now, both in paperback and ebook editions. The Kindle version is priced at only $5.79, so really, you have no excuse. Buy it now!

 

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