Serena’s Review: “Ice”

6321845Book: “Ice” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publishing Info: Margaret K. McElderry Books, October 2009

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: When Cassie was a little girl, her grandmother told her a fairy tale about her mother, who made a deal with the Polar Bear King and was swept away to the ends of the earth. Now that Cassie is older, she knows the story was a nice way of saying her mother had died. Cassie lives with her father at an Arctic research station, is determined to become a scientist, and has no time for make-believe.

Then, on her eighteenth birthday, Cassie comes face-to-face with a polar bear who speaks to her. He tells her that her mother is alive, imprisoned at the ends of the earth. And he can bring her back — if Cassie will agree to be his bride.

That is the beginning of Cassie’s own real-life fairy tale, one that sends her on an unbelievable journey across the brutal Arctic, through the Canadian boreal forest, and on the back of the North Wind to the land east of the sun and west of the moon. Before it is over, the world she knows will be swept away, and everything she holds dear will be taken from her — until she discovers the true meaning of love and family in the magical realm of Ice.

Review: I recently read and liked “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst, and after putting together our list of favorite holiday reads that included a re-telling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” I discovered the perfect combination of the two with “Ice!” Or…what I thought would be the perfect combination. Sigh.

The story starts out strong enough. I enjoyed the unique approach of setting the story in the modern world with Cassie and her father living in a research station in the Arctic. Cassie herself is introduced as a capable and intelligent protagonist. She conducts research herself and knows much about the Arctic environment and local wildlife. Enough to know that the polar bear tracks she’s seeing are much too large for the regular animals that roam the area.

Another plus has to do with some of the fairytale aspects and their interpretation in this story. The mythology and characters that were introduced were interesting and cleverly tied together, working well within the original fairytale mold while not feeling too tied down by it. The author struck a nice balance between incorporating these portions while also tying the story neatly into Intuit culture and folklore. I also enjoyed the more proactive role that Cassie originally takes in this tale> She makes a bargain of her own with Bear, insisting that she would only agree to marry him if she saved her mother. That said, this initial level of competence and independence on Cassie’s part only serves against the story later when she loses these exact traits in rather disturbing ways.

Most of the portions of the book that I enjoyed most arrived in the first half of the book, and I was pretty fully on board. But then…look, one of the main falling points for retellings of this story is giving the character of Bear a strong enough personality that he stands on his own and makes the slow-burn romance believable. And, while Bear does have somewhat of a personality, the story starts faltering right off that bat. Their relationship, one based on distrust and a forced situation, develops far too quickly to friendship and love. And while this is frustrating, it’s a familiar pitfall. But then…it’s the story takes a nosedive into “Breaking Dawn” territory with a forced pregnancy. Essentially, Bear magically deactivates Cassie’s birth control and then informs her of this after she’s three months pregnant. And from there on out the story just kind of died for me.

While Cassie is initially angry, she comes around to things way too easily. Bear as a romantic lead was killed for me, as this type of behavior is the epitome of abusive. Further, not only has Bear treated Cassie as the human equivalent of an incubator taking no consideration for her own choices about motherhood (she’s 18, remember!), but for the last half of the story, almost every other character she interacts with takes the same approach. Her decisions are constantly questioned with the worry that she’s “risking the baby” and it all gets to be too much. First, the fact that there is no concern expressed for Cassie herself, but only for the child, is saddening. And secondly, Cassie has already had the decision to be a parent taken out of her hands, but now her decisions for how to prioritize her life, protect those she loves, not just the baby, and operate as an individual are being questioned at every moment, as if she has no other purpose than to be pregnant. All of this was incredibly frustrating to read. And I could never get back on board with any romance between Cassie and Bear.

This was a very disappointing read for me. I have read other books by this author and really enjoyed them, so I had high expectations for this story. And the first half is so strong that it makes the large missteps of the latter half all the more frustrating for potential squandered. I really can’t recommend this book. There are much better re-tellings of this story, like “East,” the one I recommended in our “Holidays Favorites” post.

Rating 2: A strong start brought down by some really poor story decisions and an icky non-romance.

Reader’s Advisory:

Note: I don’t agree with this book’s deserving of being on these lists, quality-wise,  but hopefully there are some better ones to be found!

“Ice” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tale Retellings: Hidden Gems” and “Fractured Fairy Tales & Story Retellings.”

Find “Ice” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Serena’s Review: “The School of Good and Evil”

16248113Book: “The School of Good and Evil” by Soman Chainani

Publication Info: HarperCollins, May 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before. Some years it was two boys taken, some years two girls, sometimes one of each. But if at first the choices seemed random, soon the pattern became clear. One was always beautiful and good, the child every parent wanted as their own. The other was homely and odd, an outcast from birth. An opposing pair, plucked from youth and spirited away.

This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. As the most beautiful girl in Gavaldon, Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life. With her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Meanwhile Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil.

But when the two girls are swept into the Endless Woods, they find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil to take Uglification, Death Curses, and Henchmen Training, while Agatha finds herself in the School For Good, thrust amongst handsome princes and fair maidens for classes in Princess Etiquette and Animal Communication.. But what if the mistake is actually the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are…?

Review: This book seemed to hit a peak a few years ago with everyone raving about it, and finally now, years later, I’ve finally gotten to it. I don’t read a lot of middle grade fiction, but this one, with its fun premises and, I’ll admit, very catchy cover seemed worth checking out!

This book is a bit tricky to review, now that I’m getting to it. I finished reading the book about a week ago and am only now writing the review. And that one week, I think, has made an impact on my opinion of the book. Either way, ultimately, I did very much enjoy the story. But with the extra time, I feel there are a few things that were a bit clunky and problematic about it.

I breezed through this story, guys. I mean, fast. Its biggest strengths are the exact things that particularly appeal to me: very creative world building, character-based stories, and a strong dash of wit. I loved all the ties to fairytales in this book, both the direct reference to Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk, Beauty and the Beast and others, as well the way it poked fun at the generalities of these stories. In the school of Good, princesses must learn how to speak to animals and wait patiently for their princes to save them. In the school of Evil, witches must learn how to curse household items like apples and hairpins and uglify themselves to scare off heroes and heroines. The schools and their history and connection to fairytales were so much fun. Much of it was parody, but parody with heart.

There were also a lot of great characters in this story, other than just Agatha and Sophie, who I’ll get to in a moment. There was Tedros, the most popular prince in school, and son of the famed Arthur and Guenevere who struggles with his mother’s legacy and its impact on his relationship with the women around him. Sophie’s witch roommates, Hester, Dot, and Anadil are each great, particularly Hester whose badassery knows no bounds. The teachers for both school reminded me a lot of the professors from the Harry Potter novels. They are all quirky and teach particular classes. This is one area of the story that I wish there had been more of. The few classroom scenes we had were some of my favorites in the whole story.

And then there are Agatha and Sophie. There was so much I loved about these two. Their friendship is complicated not only by the fact that they are in different schools, but by the very nature of their own beings and their struggles to define themselves. Poor Agatha with her broken down self-esteem. And poor Sophie, trying so hard without realizing the huge mistakes she’s making at almost every step. Neither are simple characters, and I appreciated the time that the author gave to these two and the attention to the difficulties of growing up and recognizing the power we all hold to mold who we want to be.

Packed into this romp of a fairytale are a lot of messages, and some of them are handled better than others. As I said before, there is a lot of parody going on here. This, of course, opens the door for the parody to go unrecognized and for the more harmful aspects of some of these messages to stand as true. The author does a lot of work to speak to the fact that actions speak louder than looks, to the power of goodness and love, and many other very important points. But due to binary set-up of the story and the parallels placed between goodness/beauty and villainy/ugliness, it’s possible for some unwanted aspects to slip through. Ultimately, I feel that if the story is read in the tone that it is meant, much of this comes through very clearly. But this book might not be for everyone, due to this.

While I was able to get on board with many of these points, there was one that was a sticking point, even for me. I love stories about girls’ friendships, and at its core, that it was this is. There is a lot to be said for forgiveness and understanding in friendship, but there were a few too many times where this line was crossed far to completely to be simplified in this way. It is the same as romantic relationships, in this way: at a certain point, if you are being actively hurt by another person, that person is not your friend, even if they truly do have good feelings toward you. So, while I love the message of Agatha saving her friend through sheer will, forgiveness, and kindness, the story also, unfortunately, sets up a bad example of friendships in general. Through large portions of this story, this is not a healthy friendship. And, while we can sympathize for Sophie, it should not stand as an example that just because we (or Agatha) love a friend/boyfriend, that we should tolerate bad treatment with the hope that they will get better.

This last point is what has stuck with me through this last week of building up to this review. I sped through this book and it was wildly entertaining as I was reading. But with distance comes more clarity, and there were problematic aspects of it, as I mentioned. That said, I will definitely continue on with the series. However, I will keep my eyes open for how some parts of it are handled in the future, most notably, this friendship.

Rating 7: Really great world-building and a lot of great lessons about self-worth and self-esteem; unfortunately, lessened by some questionable portrayals of healthy friendships.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The School of Good and Evil” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Books About Special Schools” and “Fairy Tales in All Their Ways.”

Find “The School of Good and Evil” at your library using Worldcat!

 

Serena’s Review: “Conjured”

17286817Book: “Conjured” by Sarah Beth Durst

Publication Info: Walker Childrens, September 2013

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she’s in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.

At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

Review: I’ve read several of Sarah Beth Durst’s books in the past, and they are if anything, always unique. So when I discovered this one, with its creepy carnival imagery, amnesia, and serial killer nemesis, I knew that the story would be in the hands of an author capable of fully taking advantage of these elements.

The story started off slowly for me, to be honest. While Eve’s amnesia is an important part of the story, it also leaves the reader in an awkward place being equally (perhaps even more so!) in the dark as she is. We’re pretty much plopped down into a situation with no background information and a narrator who doesn’t know anymore than we do, but who is clearly involved in something nefarious, with hints being thrown every direction by other characters. Durst also wasn’t in a rush to resolve this. I was about a third of the way into the book before I started feeling truly invested in the story. And while this is a rather large hurdle to leap for many readers, I would say the later pay off is definitely worth it.

Eve herself is such a unique narrator. Her voice is so strange and it speaks to the deftness of Durst’s abilities that she can show Eve’s growth through even the most minute of changes in Eve’s outlook on what goes on around her. When the reveal comes towards the end of the story, I actually found myself paging back through the book trying to spot these change points, many of which I missed in my initial read through.

As for the twist itself, parts of it I was able to guess, but others came completely out of the blue. The motivation of the villain, Eve’s true back story in relation to the villain, was both heart breaking and distinctly chilling. I particularly appreciated the fact that the story is not quickly wrapped up once some of these twists become clear and we get to fully explore the reality of these developments and spend time in this new world order.

Further, the confusion and distrust that leads to these reveals were excellent. Eve has been told everything, she remembers/knows none of it for herself. So as she begins to question those around her, so do we, the reader. Her bouts of amnesia were both frustrating and refreshingly new to this type of story. She isn’t just a narrator who doesn’t remember her past but whose stories unfolds neatly from there on out. Eve keeps forgetting. Between chapters even! Like I said, frustrating, but also very interesting.

As for supporting characters, these were a bit more hit and miss. I loved Malcom from the get go, and grew to love his partner as well. However, I was less thrilled with the three other teens Eve meets: Aiden, Victoria, and Topher. They seemed like a neat idea, but ultimately, I feel like they didn’t even need to be in the story. Very little of the outcome would have been changed, and they were often so unlikable that I found myself wanting to skim read through their portions.

And as for the love interest, Zack…I just don’t know. There are elements of his character that I liked, but he never fully recovered for me from his introductory line of dialogue when first meeting Eve:“I think it’s a shame that it’s customary to shake hands upon greeting when what I really want to do is kiss your lips and see if you taste like strawberries.”

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Personally, if a guy introduced himself to me that way the door would be slammed on the chance of us even be acquaintances, let alone romantically involved, right then and there. It’s supposed to be twisted together with Zack’s defining characteristic: he does not tell lies. And while this plays an important role later in the story, I think there is an obvious miss between “not telling lies” and “not spewing out every ridiculous-bordering-on-creepy thought that comes into your head to a complete stranger.”

Slow start and creepy Zack aside, once pieces of the mystery started fitting together, I couldn’t put this book down. If you like dark, fantasy stories and can be patient with unreliable narrators and a slow start, definitely check this one out!

Rating 8: Slow build to an awesome resolution.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Conjured” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fairy Tales for Grown Children” and “YA & Middle Grade Circus/Carnivals/Amusement Parks.”

Find “Conjured” at your library using WorldCat.

 

Serena’s Review: “Glamour in Glass”

12160890Book: “Glamour in Glass” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor, April 2012

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: In the tumultuous months after Napoleon abdicates his throne, Jane and Vincent go to Belgium for their honeymoon. While there, the deposed emperor escapes his exile in Elba, throwing the continent into turmoil. With no easy way back to England, Jane and Vincent’s concerns turn from enjoying their honeymoon…to escaping it. Left with no outward salvation, Jane must persevere over her trying personal circumstances and use her glamour to rescue her husband from prison…and hopefully prevent her newly built marriage from getting stranded on the shoals of another country’s war.

Review: The second in the “Glamourist Histories” sereis, “Glamour in Glass” resolved many of the issues I had with the first book and introduced an expanded world and magic system.

While the appeal of the first book lay largely in its comparisons to a Jane Austen novel with magic, this aspect was also its biggest downfall. Let’s face it: more often than not, being compared to a Jane Austen novel is a kiss of death for many historical books since it will only raise expectations to impossible heights. While “Shades of Milk and Honey” wasn’t sunk by the comparison, it didn’t do the story any favors either. The plot devices or characters who struck to closely to aspects of “Emma,” “Sense and Sensibility,” or “Pride and Prejudice” were at best distractions and at worst lacking the heart and wit that lies at the core of these originals. However, this book, taking place after the marriage of Jane and Vincent, is freed from these comparisons as it ventures into unknown territory to Jane Austen stories: Life after the wedding.

I enjoyed reading about Jane and Vincent’s struggles learning to adjust to married life. While very much in love, the reality is that they still have much to learn about each other, both in regards to their own personal relationship, and with how they balance their “professional” lives as gifted glamourists, each in their own way.

The expanded descriptions and explanations for this magic system were particularly interesting. It is a very unique take on magical and I enjoyed discovering more about how it work and the varying ways it can be adapted for different uses. I remember noting in my last review that this type of magic seemed as if it would have more important applications than simply as an art form, and this book explores this concept, much to my delight. Particularly, the book dives into the ways that glamour magic is used as strategy in military maneuvering.

As the description highlights, there is much more action in this story, particularly for Jane. I enjoyed watching her make proactive choices, rather than simply react to the circumstances presented to her.

My only complaint was the decreased role that some of the original characters played in this story. While the setting places some obvious constraints on the involvement of these characters (obviously Melody would not be on their honeymoon with them!), I still missed them.

All in all, this book improved on both of my complaints of the original: freeing itself from comparisons and expanding the use of its magic system. If you were only half-sold on the first book, definitely check this one out as I see it as a great improvement in the series.

Rating 8: A step in the right direction for the series as a whole!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Glamour in Glass” is included on these Goodreads lists: :Regency Fantasy” and “Historical Paranormal Romance.”

Find “Glamour in Glass” at your library using WorldCat.

Previously Reviewed:“Shades of Milk and Honey”

Serena’s Review: “The Bloodbound”

20949421Book: “The Bloodbound” by Erin Lindsey

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2014

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honor made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…

Review: Another book that landed on my to-read pile quite a while ago that now I have no memory of selecting. But, luckily for me, my past self must have been on top of things, because this lesser known fantasy novel hit just the spot!

I’m going to whip through the basic review portions to devote the rest of this post to two things that I feel make this book noteworthy in the long list of fantasy fiction being published currently.

General worldbuilding: pretty typical European-centric, medieval fantasy world. The bloodbinding magic used to create super weapons is interesting, but isn’t breaking any hugely new ground. I was fairly well into the book when I started questioning whether this even was a fantasy novel given how little these magical elements were mentioned. Later, however, it did play a bigger role, but if you’re interested in complex magical systems, this is not that book.

Characters: Alix is great. She’s a competent, funny, independent character whose abilities and intelligence are never questioned. She makes mistakes and is flawed, but her character arc takes her through these struggles smoothly, never undermining the stronger aspects of her character. The dialogue, both her own and those around her, was witty and I caught myself laughing out loud several times.

So, all of that aside there were two things that I found notable about this story. First, I was dismayed to find a love triangle smack dab in the middle of my adult fantasy novel.

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What? No! (source)

As we all know, I do not appreciate most love triangles. I find them unrealistic, and they often seem to bring out the worst in all characters involved (selfish heroines, ridiculous-verging-on-abusive love interests). Now, I won’t say that I loved the inclusion of a love triangle even here. I’ve just never really been too entertained by the drama of multiple love interests. Seems like it would be stressful and, for me, it is the exact opposite of wish fulfillment. That said, this one righted many of the wrongs I’m used to seeing with love triangles. Perhaps the simple fact that the author is writing about adults and for adults makes the difference here. There are real consequences to the choices that are made. Hearts are broken. Confusion is unpleasant, not thrilling. And the relationships between all characters involved are real and priorities are rightly placed beyond the romance of it all. I still struggled with some of Alix’s internal musings about the situation, as it still seems unrealistic to me to be equally drawn to two different people. However, the author provided a decent explanation for this, if one that I still somewhat questioned in reality. Further, the reaction of the two men involved was a highlight. No silly posturing. No abusive possessiveness. Actual hurt and confusion. They are people who have real feelings involved. Further, they have lives, relationships, friendships, duties, and families outside of Alix that they rightly keep in perspective throughout all of this. I was particularly pleased with the way this love triangle resolved itself. So, all of that said, while I still don’t find love triangles particularly entertaining, this book proves that they can be told from a more realistic and appealing angle.

My second notable aspect of the story was its treatment of women. I am continually frustrated by stories that justify the maltreatment of its women characters (or, frankly, the glorification of very objectionable material) and the creation of generally very traditionally sexist societies by hand-waving it all under the claim that this is somehow “more realistic.” You’re writing a damn fantasy novel with magic, unicorns, and zombies for heaven’s sake. You’ve left “realistic” far behind, so why is this one aspect somehow imperative to the “reality” of your story? This book highlights how to create a fairly typical medieval fantasy world while leaving that all behind. It’s not preaching “woman power.” It’s not bashing anyone over the head with A MESSAGE. It’s just telling a story in a world where women simply are there in the army, are there in politics, are there representing the head of their family. No big deal. Sure, it’s mentioned that as women are not as physically strong, they’re often found as archers in the military. But this is by no means a rule, with the doors to others roles left wide open. And no one blinks an eye at any of this. This book is a perfect example and response to the aforementioned narrative that it is somehow impossible to balance this type of typical fantasy world with a more inclusive approach to women’s roles.

All said, I very much enjoyed this book. It’s not breaking any walls as far as plot, following a pretty simple plot structure. But the strong characters, entertaining dialogue, and well-represented world recommend it to anyone who enjoys traditional fantasy fare with a dash of romance.

Rating 7: A fun fantasy story, notable for a not-gag-worthy love triangle and a strong representation of a more inclusive fantasy world.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bloodbound” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Bodyguards” and “High Fantasy” with Female Leads / protoganists.”

Find “The Bloodbound” at your library using WorldCat!

 

Serena’s Review: “The King of Attolia”

40159Book: “The King of Attolia” by Megan Whalen Turner

Publishing Info: Greenwillow Books, January 2006

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: By scheming and theft, the Thief of Eddis has become King of Attolia. Eugenides wanted the queen, not the crown, but he finds himself trapped in a web of his own making.

Then he drags a naive young guard into the center of the political maelstrom. Poor Costis knows he is the victim of the king’s caprice, but his contempt for Eugenides slowly turns to grudging respect. Though struggling against his fate, the newly crowned king is much more than he appears. Soon the corrupt Attolian court will learn that its subtle and dangerous intrigue is no match for Eugenides.

Review: We’re back for some more of Eugendides’ hi-jinks and even more fantasy political drama. After the shake-up with narrative style that came with the previous book (going from a first person narrative from Gen’s perspective in the first book, to a third person POV with multiple characters in the second), I wasn’t sure what to expect with this one. How can an author keep her main character so tricky when readers are on to the cons after two books? Well, without spoiling it, Whalen Turner is definitely up to the task!

Our story starts with poor Gen exactly where he never wanted to be: ruling a country. Further, he’s now the King in a land ruled by a clear-headed, hard-handed Queen who rules over a land that was often at odds with his own native Eddis. I very much enjoyed the exploration of this relationship. This is by no means the happy, fluffy, “ever after” story that one is used to seeing after a royal wedding. Gen and Attolia have a complicated relationship, both in regards to their own rather, ahem, strife-ridden history, but also due to the aforementioned political power posturing that comes with a foreigner gaining a position of authority in a new land. Attolia is not the easiest woman to understand, as is made clear in the last book. And Gen plays his own thoughts and feelings close, for all that he seems so lackadaisical about everything. The exploration of this relationship was excellent.

Further, while the third person POV style was kept for this book, we are introduced to a new character, Costis, a guard in Attolia’s court. Costis is our eyes and ears representing both the feelings of many in the land of Attolia after Gen’s ascension to the throne, but also the necessary fop to be conned by Gen’s playacting. And while it is, of course, immensely enjoyable watching Costis’s eyes be opened to the true genius that is Gen, I continue to be impressed by how effectively Whalen Turner can still con the reader, as well. From the last two books, it is clear that Gen is the type of character who would chafe under the restrictions of royal life. This being the case, even I had a hard time knowing what was or was not an act on his part.

Other than Gen’s struggles at court, the larger plot of this story deals with the continued political turmoil going on in this region between the three main power houses: Attolia, Eddis, and the often-aggressive, Sunnis. Between this and the corruption in Attolia’s own court, the book’s plot is mainly political strategy and lighter on the action than both previous books (though after the action-packed “The Thief,” the previous book’s action was also much lighter). With this, the third in the series, it increasingly feels as if the first book stood alone in many ways, both in style, tone, and the type of story it was telling. These last two books seem represent the true direction that Whalen Turner is wanting to take this series. While I very much enjoyed “The Thief,” I’m loving these last two. If you’re looking for a series that doesn’t fall into any of the tropes or familiar storylines that are often present in fantasy series, definitely check out this series!

Rating 9: Excellent. I continue to be impressed with the author’s ability to retain Gen’s “trickiness!”

Reader’s Advisory:

“The King of Attolia” is on these Goodreads lists: “Political themed YA fiction” and “Jesters, Fools, and tricksters.”

Find “The King of Attolia” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed: “The Thief” and “The Queen of Attolia”

Serena’s Review: “Shades of Milk and Honey”

8697507Book: “Shades of Milk and Honey” by Mary Robinette Kowal

Publishing Info: Tor Book, August 2010

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description: Shades of Milk and Honey” is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: “Pride and Prejudice” meets “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.” It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

Review: As a fan of Jane Austen, I routinely find myself picking up books that have any hint of similarities. And as the description with this one promised a mix of Jane Austen PLUS fantasy, I knew I would have to read it immediately.

In many ways,  Jane lives in typical Regency England. Manners, gentlemen and ladies, balls, and lots of sitting in breakfast rooms gossiping about one’s neighbors. Except, to be a proper, accomplished lady, alongside skills in embroidery, painting, and music, one must also master the art of glamour. Described as folding and weaving light, a glamourist is able to create magical scenes and movement, often for the purposes of impressing one’s neighbors at dinner parties. It seems equivalent with hiring a master painter to create unique portraits for one’s family, essentially. And while Jane’s sister Melody received the looks and charm of the family, Jane is the sister skilled in this specific art.

I really enjoyed the descriptions of this glamour magic. It is such a unique idea and seems to have endless applications. It’s curious seeing it primarily as an art form, as I would imagine there would have to be many other more practical uses for something like this, other than just decorating rich people’s houses. But, like many historical “manners” stories, we are mostly focused on the very privileged lives of our gentry main characters, so I guess seeing it mainly as a form of art makes sense. The whole idea is fascinating and the descriptions of the process of weaving light and the end results were engaging.

As for characters, they were fairly typical fare for a book that is purporting itself as a “Jane Austen read-alike.” It was an interesting mix of storylines and character types from both “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” For fans of Jane Austen’s work and those two books specifically, it was fun spotting the tie-ins. Jane, herself, was a likeable heroine, if perhaps lacking some of Elizabeth Bennet’s spunk. Vincent, too, plays the role of the broody leading man effectively. His backstory was interesting and I enjoyed learning more about his character and motivations.

There were a few problems with the writing itself. For the most part, the language is descriptive and elegant. However, there were times where it seemed that the author couldn’t decide how fully to commit to the language of the time. Words would go back and forth from being spelled in the traditional manner to the modern. And there were even a few words of the time that it seemed the author didn’t fully understand. She used the word “droll” in place of the word “dour” it seemed, several times using “droll” to describe a character who was behaving in a gloomy and stern manner. This was frustrating to see in what was otherwise a very competent novel.

All in all, language quibbles aside, I very much enjoyed this book and will be checking out the next one. As all of Jane Austen’s stories were one-offs, it will be interesting to see what the author does with this story, now that we are beyond the point that any of those books cover.

Rating 7: A very unique magic system, if only marked down for some peculiar language mistakes.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Shades of Milk and Honey” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Fantasy of Manners” and ““Sister” Novels.”

Find “Shades of Milk and Honey” at your library using WorldCat.