Throne of Glass, currently consisting of Throne of Glass (2012) and Crown of Midnight (2013) [plus four prequel novellas available as e-books], may just be my favorite teen fantasy series so far. Seriously, I’m very excited about this series. Throne of Glass opens with 18-year-old female assassin Celaena Sardothien forced into slavery working mines in a prison camp when Prince Dorian and his Guard Captain Westfall arrive with an offer: complete in a series of challenges to become the King’s Champion and she will earn her freedom. Of course being the King’s “Champion” means doing the blackest of deeds serving the man who conquest ruined her life and sent her into the slavery. But the carrot of freedom is too tempting, particularly given the brutal conditions of the camp, and Celaena enters the competition. Over the course of the novel Calaena, whose life has been far from easy even before being exiled to a labor camp, steps into the quagmire of court life and a deadly competition. If competing for the title of Champion isn’t enough the palace, much of made of strange glass, is also plagued by a series of mysterious murders targeting the competitors.
I had high hopes for James Dashner’s Eye of Minds. The not-quite-cyberpunk Eye of Minds is the first a new Young Adult series by Dashner who gained some acclaim for his popular Maze Runner series. The novel follows a young gamer named Michael and his friends who spend a lot of time in the VirtNet; a simulated virtual reality. Michael has spent much of his time trying to earn access to a higher level of the VirtNet called Lifeblood Deep. Michael’s life changes after his run-in with a girl in the VirtNet who commits suicide, overriding the VirtNet safeties to actually die seemingly to escape some mysterious figure named Kaine. Shaken by this encounter Michael is soon after contacted by VirtNet Security to track down Kaine; saying no isn’t much of an option. Michael ropes in his friends Bryson and Sarah into the quest and the three set forth to track down the larger-than-life Kaine.
Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave received a big marketing push before it’s release and rightfully so; it is an engaging, entertaining story, with definite mass appeal and absolutely crying for a film version. It is also a book rife with problems and one that doesn’t quite live up to its own expectations. The titular 5th Wave refers to the 5th stage of an invasion by a mysterious alien threat. Earth’s population has already been decimated by the first four waves; each successive stage whittling down human resistance. The novel focus on a Cassie a young survivor who escaped the first four waves with her family but who now finds herself on her own after some rather tragic events. Cassie makes the rather rash decision to find and rescue her younger brother and in doing so sets off a chain of events that will reveal the mystery of the 5th Wave.
The 5th Wave’s premise grabbed me right from the start. I’m a sucker for invasion stories and from that standpoint Yancey’s novel crafts a frightening and fascinating vision of a potential invasion. The plans of the mysterious aliens are smart if a bit complicated but still makes for some fun reading. The bond between Cassie and her family is a strong one and some of the novel’s strongest elements rise out of that fact. In fact, while I was consistently entertained throughout the novel I found Cassie’s memories of her family (often told in flashbacks) a far more compelling story than the one that is being told in the present. The strength of those memories and Cassie’s emotional bond with those memories and her family resonated rather strongly while I was reading. They resonated so strongly in fact that the romantic elements of the story, namely Cassie’s attraction to Evan Walker, fell completely flat. Indeed, there were times where the romantic connection between the two characters felt more like editorial mandate than anything the author really wanted to do. While Evan certainly plays an essential role in the plot in helping Cassie get to her brother the connection between he and Cassie just feels forced.
The 5th Wave is certainly an entertaining novel and I’m not positive that teen readers would feel the same about the romantic elements in the novel as I do. Despite the faltering romance I found myself consistently engaged by the novel and invested in the fate of Cassie and her brother. The novel feels like it occasionally loses focus but despite this Yancey does a rather splendid job of envisioning a world ravaged by an alien invasion. I’m definitely interested in seeing where this story goes.
If the The 5th Wave is the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer action spectacle then Victoria Schwab’s The Archived is the Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton equivalent. Subtle, dark and wonderfully imagined The Archived lacks much of the flash of The 5th Wave but doubles down on the heart. The Archived is a novel about death and grieving. Mackenzie Bishop is still reeling from the death of her younger brother and her parent’s decision to move to an old hotel converted into an apartment complex and open up a coffee shop isn’t helping her grieving process very much. Complicating things a bit further is the fact that Mackenzie know what happens when you dies. She works for The Archive, a mystical place that much like a library, houses the dead now called Histories. Mackenzie is a Keeper and her job isn’t a particularly relaxing one. Tasked with returning those Histories who wake up and wander the world, often with violent results, her job is both mentally and physically exhausting.
If The Archived has proved anything about fascination with YA fiction it’s that I’m drawn to fiction which features death as a major theme. The Graveyard Book, The Death Watch, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Anna Dressed in Blood all stand alongside The Archived as YA novel’s I’ve enjoyed which spend a considerable amount of time discussing, often directly, the nature of death and grieving. I don’t know what the says about me but regardless of that fact The Archived does a moving job a conveying Mackenzie’s sense of loss and her struggle to deal with her brother’s death. While it is often discussed directly in the novel it is important to note that even in those moment’s when it isn’t discussed Mackenzie’s grief looms in the background never quite out of sight.
Schwab smartly sticks to Mackenzie as the reader’s “in” for her world and focuses on Mackenzie’s personal struggle. What the reader learns about the Archive is strictly limited to what Mackenzie learned and Schwab manages to convey the sensation that we only learn what we do because it is being remembered as Mackenzie works through her feelings of loss, not only resulting from the loss of her brother but also the loss of Grandfather; the man who trained her and brought her into the Archive. The Archived tells a taught suspenseful tale and every scene feels laden with history and import as Mackenzie slowly unravels the mystery behind who, or what, has been deliberately waking up (often altering) Histories. Schwab is an author to watch and I definitely recommend people looking for a unique, thrilling, and emotionally engaging tale of fantasy fiction give The Archived a shot.
I don’t understand Brandon Sanderson. Seriously. Most fantasy authors are lucky if they come up with one new fascinating and intricate fantasy setting. Most fantasy authors are lucky to come up with a single complex magic system (or unlucky depending on your view). Except Brandon Sanderson isn’t most fantasy authors. It seems likely that he has somehow tapped into some mystical wellfont of fantasy ideas. Of course that doesn’t even mention the fact that he seems to produce material at a seemingly inhuman rate. Since Elantris‘ release in 2005 (and up to and including The Rithmatist) Sanderson has released somewhere around 16 novels (and at least 2 novellas), 3 of which completed Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time (he has at least one more novel due this year, Steelheart in September). A Feast For Crows was published in 2005 so in that same time period George R. R. Martin has released one book: A Dance with Dragons. I’m not sure it’s a fair comparison but it’s still impressive to say the least.
Orson Scott Card
Simon Pulse, 2012
Have you ever read a book that was almost compulsively readable yet you can’t decided whether it was good or not? For me Orson Scott Card’s Ruins is such a book. Picking up almost immediately after 2011’s Pathfinder, Ruins continues the journey of Rigg, Umbo, and Param as they search for the truth behind the world of Garden and uncover the mysteries of the Walls which segregate it. Rigg, as readers learn in Pathfinder, has the ability to see the paths of the past, where living creatures have left an imprint on the world. Trained by a machine-man to be able to read people and societies Rigg departed on a journey that saw him join up with several other children who have abilities similar to his. The interaction of the time manipulation powers of Rigg, Umbo, and Param allows them to cross the previously impenetrable border between their home and the next wallfold. This is where Ruins picks up as the three powered teens along with the soldier/scholar Olivenko and Loaf begin to explore their second wallfold.
Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Little, Brown and Company, 2011
Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a book that I picked up and really wanted to like. A strong female lead with a mysterious past trained in a variety of skills from martial arts to foreign languages and a unique setting in the city of Prague had me hopeful for something new and exciting. Daughter of Smoke and Bone is that new and exciting thing to a certain extent but at the same time there is a sense of overwrought emotional melodrama that seems to pervade the entire novel. Laini Taylor opens things up with a tongue in cheek scene involving our blue-haired lead Karou and her now ex-boyfriend, it seems he runs “vampire” tours of Prague playing up on the current vampire craze that prevails in popular culture. I rather enjoyed the playful stab at the vampire theme so prevelavent in the Young Adult demographic. It manages to provide a knowing head nod without managing to feel like mockery.
Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2012
Every Day by David Levithan is “what if” story that is a fantasy of sorts that doesn’t bend to the tropes of that genre. The premise is simple: what if you had no body. You are still a distinct individual with feelings, memories, and a personality but every day you wake up in someone else’s body. For A, this isn’t mere speculation it is his existence. Each morning A wakes up in a new body. It might be male or female, it could be any ethnicity, it could be any sexual orientation, it might have any number of problems but it is always relatively close to A own age and it is never the same body twice. This has been A’s existence since he was an infant and he has learned through many hard years to not form lasting relationships with anyone around him. He sticks to that philosophy until he meets Rhiannon and suddenly his hard earned experience doesn’t matter and he finds himself drawn to Rhiannon no matter whose body he is.
Richard Paul Evans, read by Fred Berman
Simon and Scuster Audio, 2011
I’m always looking for a good book from the Young Adult world. Sometimes I’m looking for an easy straightforward read, sometimes I’m looking to see what sort of new experimentation is being done in the youth market, and sometimes I just want to know what all the hype is about. My experience with Richard Paul Evans’ Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 definitely falls into that first category. The titular Michael Vey is a young man with Tourette’s syndrome who is constantly bullied in school and who even the administration has a hard time believing isn’t the cause of all of his own troubles. Of course, Michael is hiding a secret–he is charged with electricity, able to conduct and store electrical currents. He thinks he is the only “freak” until he finds out the schools prettiest cheerleader, Taylor, has powers as well (also based in electricity but in a different way). With the help of his best friend Ostin, Michael and Taylor set forth to discover exactly who and what they are.
Anna Dressed in Blood
Tor Teen, 2011
Anna Dressed in Blooddrew my eye with its evocative title and subtle cover. Its jacket description reminded me in many ways of the CW’s long running Supernatural; in my opinion one of the more entertaining genre shows on television. The story centers on Cas Lockwood and teen who inherited his father’s athame and his father’s profession: hunting and killing ghosts. Along with his mother, a white witch, Cas sets out to investigate the myth of the titular Anna partly as a training mission to take on the ghost that murdered his father.
Death Watch (The Undertaken Trilogy Book 1)
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2011
It feels to me that today’s YA market is supersaturated by a preponderance of speculative novels about werewolves, vampires, and faeries. Maybe that’s just my perception of the YA world post-Twilight, but it does mean that when I see a YA novel with supernatural elements that doesn’t include any of the aforementioned creatures I get rather excited. Originality is always something to be praised and the minute I set my eyes on the somber and minimalist cover of Ari Berk’s Death Watch I knew that I was in for something wholly different.